Ending just one win from an appearance in the University of Northern Iowa UNI Dome, the never-say-die West Liberty High School football team concluded their COVID-19 pandemic inflicted season Friday night in Camanche, 34-20.
The loss came despite a late comeback attempt after West Liberty fell behind 34-0 to the host Indians, who won their ninth game of the season in 10 tries. The Comets’ Cinderella story that included two straight final-play wins against ranked opponents the past two weeks, ended as the talented hosts proved they were as good as an earlier 20-0 win against West Liberty on Sept. 25.
The night started off on the wrong foot for the Comets as Camanche’s Cade Everson broke containment and took the opening kick 99 yards for a devastating touchdown.
The Comets punted on their first offensive possession but got the ball back immediately following an interception by junior Jahsiah Galvan, giving the Comets the ball back at the Camanche 38-yard line.
The Comets drove the ball down field but an untimely turn over gave the Indians the ball again. The teams traded possessions before the Indians scored on a flea flicker from Michael Delzell to Sean Lawrence to give the Indians a 14-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the opening half. The Indians scored again on a five-yard run from Everson to give the Indians a commanding 21-0 lead before heading into the locker-room.
But it was the Camanche defense that kept the Comets from the end zone until later in the game, controlling the speed and shiftiness of star running back Galvan, who had helped the Comets to three straight playoff wins and a 6-2 record going into the game.
The Comets didn’t start well in the second half as well, fumbling on their opening possession of the second half. The Indians capitalized on the turnover to take a 27-0 lead early in the second half that looked to put the game out of reach for West Liberty. The Indians forced another turnover on the Comets second drive and turned that into seven more points and take a 34-0 lead with 5 minutes left in the third period.
The Comet offense found its spark shortly thereafter, as Galvan finally found some daylight, breaking a run yards up the sideline for a 50-yard score to breathe some life into the Comets, now trailing 34-6 with 4:30 left in the third period and the clock ticking away.
The Comet defense forced an Indian punt and Galvan punched in another rushing touchdown from 13 yards out. Forcing another Indian punt, the Comets started their next time at the Indian 35-yard line after a punt bounced off the heal of a Comet and the ball was fielded by Galvan on a hop and taken up the side line to put the Comets on the plus side of the 50.
Junior quarterback Caleb Wulf connected with sophomore Drake Collins for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 9 minutes left in regulation to put the Comets within two scores, trailing 34-20.
But Camanche went on a long time-eating drive down the field, chewing through the majority of the remaining clock before Collins came up with an interception that gave the Comets an opportunity to take one last stab at stealing the ball game.
But a stingy Indian defense rose to the occasion. The Comets were unable to get anything going on their last possession and ultimately turned the ball over before Camanche would run out the remaining time on the clock and end the Comet season.
The Comets would end the season 6-3, falling twice to the Indians and one game short of a trip to the UNI Dome.
The Indians advance to a Class 2A Semifinal against Central Lyon/George-Little Rock (10-0) at 4 p.m. this Saturday in the Dome.
It was the third straight win for the Indians, who were winless four years ago. The team is currently experiencing the single-most successful football season in Camanche history.
Coach Jason Iske's Comets came off a two-week COVID-19 pandemic break to start their playoff run with wins over Maquoketa, 5-16, after getting beat by the Cardinals earlier in the year.
West Liberty then tackled hosting Mount Vernon, winning in overtime on an interception in the end zone, 26-20 after scoring first. The Comets then upset highly favored and unbeaten Williamsburg on their home field, blocking a potential game-winning field goal with just six seconds remaining and running the ball back 65 yards for the win.