Breakthrough against West Burlington

Comets pick up first win of season with an all-around team effort


There is no better feeling than getting in victory formation.

It was a tough first two weeks for West Liberty, but the team got back on track last Friday with a 27-7 victory in the home-opener against West Burlington.

“I think we all knew we were better than what we showed the first two weeks,” Comets coach Jason Iske said. “To go out and perform and get a win, there was definitely some relief there.

“I know it’s cliché and coach speak, but it was just a great team win. I think everybody that played, offense, defense, special teams, everybody executed well. It was really good all around.”

Not only did the Comets celebrate a win, but they honored America with their annual “Salute to Service” night.

Service members from around the area descended upon Memorial field as the Comets honored those who serve, from active military to veterans and active civil service members from around the area.

It was a patriot’s perfect night on Friday as American flags hung from emergency vehicles that line the football stadium as “God Bless the USA” blared through the speakers during warmup.

Members of the West Liberty Junior High football team ushered flags down the sidelines 10 yards apart as the volleyball team presented the flag along with members of the American Legion prior to the national anthem.

During the first quarter, members of the West Liberty emergency departments and nearby cities were greeted with handshakes from the Comets.

And during that first quarter, it didn’t take long for the Comets football players to get the crowd behind them.

West Liberty got the scoring started just over three minutes into the game with a Seth Axsom receiving touchdown from just over 10 yards out.

He stuck his left foot in the ground on an out route, caught the ball and dove for the pylon for six points.

It would take nearly 18 minutes before the next score, but it was a big one.

With 93 seconds until the intermission, junior quarterback Ryker Dengler hit senior Jayce McHugh on a simple screen pass, who then took it 75-yards to the end zone.

“Honestly, the first half, we were executing both sides of the ball pretty well,” Iske said. “We had some penalties in some bad spots. That was the only thing stopping us offensively.”

West Burlington came right back with a response before halftime. With under 45 seconds left on the running clock, quarterback Caden Schwenker kept the ball on a read option and took it 42-yards down to the two-yard line.

On the next play, running back Blake Wilson punched it in to cut the deficit to six.

“We made a couple halftime adjustments and our defense locked down after that point,” Iske said. “It was a team effort defensively. I thought our defensive line did a really good job of executing what we asked them to.

“They might not have all the tackles and everything, but the way they played and executed allowed some of our linebackers and defensive backs to get easy tackles. Our middle linebackers, Tytan Griffith and Cameron Iske, they did a really good job of shutting down their run game.”

It was up to the offense to take advantage of the situation, and they did exactly that.

Mid-way through the third quarter, Dengler found senior Diego Sanchez for an easy pitch and catch touchdown after Sanchez’s defender chose to chase after the quarterback and leave the receiver wide open.

And right before the end of the quarter, Dengler hit junior Caden Laughlin for an equally wide-open 34-yard touchdown down the middle of the field.

The Comets’ defense snuffed out any comeback attempts, and the offense had one last possession which iced the game.

“We were really happy with our final drive,” Iske said. “We got the ball in our own territory with about seven minutes left in the game. We just put a drive together and we got a first down at their one-yard line. We were just able to kneel it from there. Being able to chew up those last seven and minutes of the game and put it away was a good thing.”

The difference in this ballgame was the Comets’ ability to rush the ball.

Sanchez, McHugh, senior Alexis Michel and junior Bryson Garcia combined to rush for 120 yards for West Liberty, which was 34 more yards than the previous two games combined.

“Our offensive line did a great job this week with blocking,” Iske said. “For us to at least have a run game, something that has to keep the defense honest, that’s what we were missing in the first two games.”

Despite this performance, the Comets can’t rest on their laurels. District play starts next Friday when they travel to Tipton, which is 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 31 points.

Even though these games now count more, the process and mindset for this team won’t change.

“We focus on what we’re doing,” Iske said. “We always have the goal to win the district title, but it’s always something we say at the beginning of the year and we just don’t talk about it. Get your job done every day, get better every day, and let the scoreboard do its thing.

“To me, if you focus on (records) too much, you end up focusing on the wrong thing. You worry too much about the results and not about what it takes to get the results.”

At the very least, history is on the Comets’ side when it comes to their rivalry against the Tigers.

West Liberty has won each of the last four matchups against Tipton dating back to 2018. The defense did not surrender more than 14 points in any of the meetings.