West Liberty High School head football coach Jason Iske said he didn’t think “anybody found it unfortunate to play Camanche twice.” in a season that saw the Indians get to the finals in the Iowa High School Association state finals after eliminating a scrappy, never-say-die Comet team that finished 6-3 and finished the season on an historic playoff run.
Even after losing 20-0 in the regular season to Camanche and falling behind 34-0 in a playoff game on Nov. 6, the coach said he’s sure that if you ask his Comet players, “they would want to play them again if we could.”
Camanche ended their undefeated season Nov. 12 at the University of Northern Iowa UNI-Dome, losing to Central Lyon/George-Little Rock 41-0, an unbeaten team that was playing for the Class 2A state title against Waukon on Nov. 20.
“I think the unfortunate thing is that we happened to play our two worst games against the same team.,” said Iske. “We just had too many mistakes and unforced errors for us to overcome.”
The Comets did come back in that playoff game to cut the lead to two scores in a big second half, but time ran out on a third straight comeback week in a playoff year West Liberty’s team and their fans will be talking about for a long time.
The Comets, after coming off a COVID-19 pandemic two week halt midway through their season after starting 3-2, rallied with three playoff wins including a 36-16 win over Maquoketa, which had handily beaten the Comets in the regular season. It was followed by a 26-20 overtime victory over Mount Vernon, won after the Comets first scored in overtime and an interception by sophomore J.D. Seering on the host’s PAT try.
A week later, the West Liberty team met an unbeaten Williamsburg team and came from behind to tie the game at 14 before a final play 39-yard field goal attempt by the Raiders was blocked by 6-4 Comet senior Kobe Simon and senior Lake Newton picked up the loose ball and ran it 65 yards for the winning score as time expired.
“I'm certainly proud of the season we had in the midst of a lot of confusion and chaos,” Iske said. “There were many great memories that were made that our players and coaches will take with them for a long time.”
The coach said his team was pretty resilient this year, including in the final Camanche game, which started with a 99 yard kickoff return by Cade Emerson.
“I don't think that singular play had an effect, but it was definitely part of a accumulation of bad plays in the first half that put us in a big hole that was hard to overcome.,” Iske said of falling behind. “After that opening kickoff we put a great drive together so I wouldn't say it affected us at that moment.”
The coach said it was special to make a run in the playoffs, “especially this season when the playoff format was different from those in the past in that every team is in the playoffs and so you're playing more games that have that sense of urgency to them.”
“I'm proud of the way our team responded to the challenges put forth each week and hope those experiences are things that can be used as teaching tools for our players in the future,” Iske said.
The coach said he didn’t know quite why this team had such a do or die attitude. “That's a good question and I'm not sure I have a good answer to it.,” Iske said. “We just seem to have players on our team who perform well in the biggest moments. That and there's always an element of luck involved that definitely went our way at times.”
Iske said the team’s performance this year wasn’t surprising. “I think we all had high expectations for the season and I would say the biggest surprises came with things we couldn't control like rules and regulation changes, players and coaches getting sick, and schedule changes.”
He said there is a lot to be proud about this season and high hopes for the 2021 season. “Not only do we have a lot of good players coming back, but we have a number of players who have meaningful varsity experience returning,” Iske said.
The coach said it's so hard right now to say what the "off season" will look like, but “hopefully our players will be able to be involved in other sports and continue to build themselves through those activities and the weight room.”
The coach said he can’t even think about the 2021 season yet, noting he just hopes his players “get the opportunity to enjoy themselves in other activities and have successes there.”
It may be a while before the team gets to celebrate its success, with schools and activities all closed through at least the Thanksgiving holiday, the team still hoping to put together a season-ending banquet. “Unfortunately, I don't think we will be having a banquet with the restrictions in place,” the coach said, calling it, “one more bump in the road that has been full of potholes this season.”
The Comets ran for 1,786 yards this season on 265 attempt, averaging 6.7 yards a carry and scoring 15 touchdowns compared to 526 yards through the air on 47 of 105 completions for an 11.2 average and three touchdowns.
That rushing total was led by junior Jahsiah Galvan, who carried the ball 178 times for 1,566 yards, scoring a team-leading 12 times including a 96-yard run. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
The next best rusher was quarterback Caleb Wulf, who totaled 56 yards in 35 carries and one touchdown while Kobe Simon scored twice this year, carrying the ball just four times for nine yards.Drake Collins also rushed for 75 yards on 18 carries this season while Lake Newton added 44 yards in nine carries and David Molina carried the ball 19 times for 34 yards.
Junior Caleb Wulf threw 102 times, completing 45 of his passes for 419 yards and a 9.3 average including two touchdowns. Seven different Comets caught passes this season led by Sam Singerich with 10 for 143 yards while Lake Newton collected 11 passes for 125 yards and Joshua Zeman had 124 receiving yards in just six catches. Kob Simon also caught five passes for 74 yards while Galvan had 47 yards on six receptions, Drake Collins also had 57 yards on eight receptions for the Comets.
Defensively, the Comets were led by sophomore linebacker Drake Collins with 48 total tackles, including 28 solos while Galvan had 47.5 tackles and 38 solos from his corner back position. Simon recorded 36.5 tackles with 28 solos while David Molina had 22 solos in 31.5 tackles and Felipe Molina had 30 tackles including 23 solos. Senior Austin Elizalde had 26.5 tackles to his credit for the Comets while Lake Newton recorded 25.5, Sam Gingerich added 22.5 and Joshua Zeman recorded 21.5.
David Molina, a senior, also lead the team in fumble recoveries with a pair to his credit while Lake Newton also had a pair. Galvan led the team in interceptions with three to his credit.
Newton led the team in punt returns with 60 yards in six attempts while the senior had 238 yards in kickoff returns on 13 tries, including an 81-yard touchdown. Galvan also had 64 yards on five punt returns along with two kickoff returns for 5 yards, Sam Gingerich also had one kickoff return for 29 yards and Tyler Jones returned three kicks for 24 yards.
Galvan led the punting department, booting the ball 20 times for 739 yards for an average of 37.0.