Polo technically did not play a playoff game last season, but the Marcos did play a similar type of contest in Week 9 against Eastland-Pearl City.
The objective was simple: Win and reach Class 1A playoff eligibility with six wins, or lose and leave their fate in the hands of the IHSA selection committee.
Polo lost to EPC 41-7 on its home field, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. The stinging loss is a main motivating factor fueling the Marcos this season.
“We’ve talked to the kids about a Polo tradition of being in the playoffs,” third-year head coach Jeff Bumsted said. “It just depends on how the chips fall, injuries, and how hard our kids work. We have all the talent, we’ll just see if we can get by with 12 guys.”
Polo actually beat an Orange-ville team in Week 1 last season that reached the playoffs. This year, the Marcos will travel north to battle the Broncos on Saturday, Aug. 26, because Orangeville’s home field does not have functioning lights.
Polo will take on rival Milledgeville at home in the Battle of the Blacktop in Week 2, a game that largely affected the playoff hopes of both the Missiles and Marcos a year ago.
“There were a couple games where we let go,” senior quarterback Braiden Soltow said. “We could have had Milledgeville, but they deserved to win the game. That was one that could have got us in the playoffs, but we just didn’t get there.”
A 272-mile trip south to play Metro-East Lutheran in Edwardsville is in order for Week 3 before hosting perennial NUIC Upstate power Aquin. Polo will then travel to Warren and River Ridge, and take on Stockton and AFC at home before hitting the road to take on EPC in the season finale.
Health will again be a key to Polo’s success.
Bumsted described his roster situation as the opposite of a fictional Dutch story from the novel “Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates” – about a little boy who saved Holland from flooding by sticking his finger in the dike. If the Marcos plug one hole at a position to fill in for an injured player, the team will have another hole open in the vacated role.
“We’ve got 12 varsity kids,” Bumsted said, “four juniors and eight seniors. There’s also a couple kids that have talked about coming out that aren’t here yet. What really hurts our sophomores is that we have no middle-school football program. So our sophomores just completed their first year of football. So to have a sophomore come up to the varsity, he has to be pretty special.”
Bumsted noted that the junior class is solid, and the sophomores have latched onto the sport despite their inexperience. Polo’s core is its senior class, with a majority having played varsity football since they were sophomores.
“We should be fine when it comes to speed,” senior Brady Webb said. “But one of our weaknesses is that we’re not very big. But conditioning-wise, we’ll be up there with anybody like every year, because Coach Bumsted and the coaching staff helps us.”
Webb racked up 620 yards and five touchdowns on offense last season, making an impact in both the running game (54 carries) and passing game (18 receptions). He also played major roles as a defensive back and return man.
Soltow will be Polo’s starting quarterback for the third straight season, and has become comfortable running Bumsted’s offense. Over the last 2 years, the lanky senior has completed 55 percent (85-for-154) of his passes, accumulated 1,752 yards as a passer and runner, and scored 18 total TDs.
“It’s really helped running the same offense every single year,” Soltow said. “So far this year, it’s been easier for me to read plays and get everybody in the right spots. It’s a lot easier than my sophomore year.”
Back in January, Polo school administrators made the decision that the program will begin playing 8-man football in 2019. Aside from a team meeting describing the decision in the winter, the coaches and players have kept a laser-like focus on the 2018 campaign.
“There hasn’t even been one word spoken about it,” Bumsted said. “We’re not talking about 8-man. We haven’t done a lick of it in practice.
“It’s all about 11-man. We want to send our seniors out the right way. We’ll worry about next year, next year.”
Did you know?
• Polo missed the Class 1A playoffs last season with a 5-4 record. Six other teams with the same record – Orangeville, Stark County, Catlin Salt Fork, Chester, Pleasant Hill and Moweaqua Central A&M – made the 1A playoffs.