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AFC, Polo both need to avoid 0-2 start

The hole story

The Polo defense wraps up an East Dubuque runner for a short gain during the first quarter last Friday. The Marcos and the AFC Raiders meet tonight in a matchup of teams looking to avoid an 0-2 start.
The Polo defense wraps up an East Dubuque runner for a short gain during the first quarter last Friday. The Marcos and the AFC Raiders meet tonight in a matchup of teams looking to avoid an 0-2 start.

Sports history is full of exceptions to the rule.

Among the aberrations? The 1992 San Diego Chargers who got off the mat to make the playoffs after opening 0-4. More recently, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, despite posting just a .516 winning percentage in the regular season.

A year prior and much closer to home, the Polo football team made the playoffs, despite losing its first two games.

Neither the Marcos nor their visitor tonight, the AFC Raiders, are interested in taking a crack at repeating said feat.

Polo coach Andrew Hofer and his staff has installed a do-or-die mentality this week after a 33-6 loss to East Dubuque.

“For us, it’s a desperation game,” Hofer said. “You start out 0-1, and it’s time to get desperate and be ready to come out in Week 2. No one wants to start 0-2.

“[AFC is] in the same mode as us, and we need to be able to overcome that.”

"You start 0-2, and it's a tough road ahead, especially when you look at the road ahead, lots of playoff teams on the schedule," AFC coach Brad Winterland said.

Those who played varsity ball for Winterland last season might still be bitter about not being one of those playoff teams. The Raiders posted a 5-4 mark but came up short in playoff points.

"The exact phrase we used was, 'Practice with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder,'" Winterland said. "One of the things that's stood out to me is how aggressive the kids have been and how they're getting after each other in practice: in a good way."

He's excited to have nearby neighbor Polo – about a 25-minute drive away – back in the NUIC Upstate fold. The last time the teams got together – a 42-22 Polo victory in 2010 – neither he nor Hofer were at their team's helm.

"The two schools are close enough to each other that the kids look at this as a rivalry game," Winterland said. "Our kids want to get it. It's about as close to our backyard as possible,"

Naturally, Polo's sophomore quarterback Brody Grobe wasn't a member of that 2010 squad, nor was senior fullback Jeff Kimpel. Yet Grobe's sentiments suggest that he understands the rivalry's potential, as well as what it will take to restore Polo's roar. The Marcos made the playoffs five straight seasons from 2005-09.

"You've got to have determination and work ethic. You've got to want it all," Grobe said. "You've got to act like you want to go out there and win."

"The last couple of years, as I've been watching the varsity teams, they've been really desperate for those wins, but haven't been able to get them."

As for Xs and Os, Grobe says his team needs to "pound the rock," and Kimpel emphasized getting backs to the edge and into space is key.

"That'd be a huge boost, to get some big gains to the outside" Kimpel said. "[Our backs] were pretty down because they didn't get the stats they wanted."

Hofer would settle for just finishing drives, no matter how, after several of them stalled near the East Dubuque red zone last Friday. Several first downs and 20-plus-yard plays were negated by penalties. The sloppy conditions also led to a few bobbled snaps.

“Those always kill you," Hofer said. “We felt like we left a lot of points off the board, and hopefully we can finish off those drives this week."

He knows his Marcos will need to handle the Raiders' option-heavy attack, but AFC also put the ball in the air 17 times during a 34-14 loss to Aquin last Friday at Mel Barron Field in Franklin Grove.

When Polo has the ball, the coaches both agree that AFC will have the size advantage, evidenced by four forced turnovers, two blocked punts and two sacks against the stalwart Aquin. But both are more interested in how both teams handle the beef differential.

“On defense, they’re kind of an aggressive, scrappy bunch,” Hofer complimented. “They’re going to keep getting after you and, if you don’t hold your blocks, they’re going to make you pay.”

"Yeah, in this game, we're going to have a size advantage up front, but they're going to bring it up front," Winterland returned. "They're not going to back down."

Leave it to a sophomore entering his second varsity rumble to boil it down.

"We've just gotta want it more than AFC," Grobe said.

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