Plagued by numerous penalties, four interceptions and lots of mistakes, the West Liberty High School football team took a surprising early lead on neighboring rival Iowa City Regina Friday night, but failed in their second outing of the season, 34-6.
The Comets stormed out to a 6-0 lead in the opening quarter, causing Regal quarterback Gentry Dumont to scramble time and time again and frustrating the visitors, forcing a bad punt and taking prime field position time and time again in the opening period.
The Comets not only scored once with just 24 seconds left in the opening period on a one-yard dive by junior running back Drake Collins, but should have scored earlier, getting the ball at midfield after a horrific punt in a first half that was much closer than the score indicated.
West Liberty used a special pitch and catch play in front of the Regina sidelines, Joshua Zeman catching a Caleb Wulf pass and pitching the ball to a passing Felipe Molina, who raced to the Regina 16 yard line in one of West Liberty’s biggest plays of the game.
“It was a good play,” said West Liberty coach Jason Iske. “There was a look that they gave us defensively that we liked and we ran the play the way it was designed. It's one of those plays that you can catch a team on one time but a good team like Regina will sniff it out the next time.”
The Comets got the ball to the 12 before Wulf threw his first interception, senior Carson Jensen picking off the pass near the end zone and running it back to the 15 at 5:19.
“We definitely feel like we had some missed opportunities in the red zone,” Iske said. “We were able to move the ball most of the night, but turnovers and penalties killed us. Some of that is execution, but some of that is on us as coaches as well to put the players in better positions to succeed.”
Still, it didn’t take long for West Liberty to turn things around, Bryan Martinez intercepting a Regal pass at 3:47 and advancing the ball to the Regina 26. After a third down pass to Collins resulted in a Regina penalty, West Liberty got the ball on a third and two from the 17. Running back Jahsiah Galvan eventually went 16 yards to the one, setting up the touchdown that took place on fourth down. The PAT boot missed.
Regina had a nice kickoff return by Sam Aitchison to the 44, Ty Jones making a score saving tackle before Jack Tierney advanced the ball to the 27 and a first down by the quarterback set up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Sam Aitchison at 9:25, the PAT kick giving the Regals a 7-6 lead they would not relinquish.
The visitors tried a surprise squib kick on the next kickoff but it was recovered by West Liberty’s Felipe Molina on the 32. Some hard running by Galvan including hurdling a defender down the Comet sidelines (which resulted in a penalty) helped the Comets roll to the 21, but a Galvan fumble at 1:37, with a player hanging onto his jersey, gave the ball back to Regina.
Regina didn’t waste any time offensively, connecting on a long pass that resulted in a touchdown saving tackle by Collins at the Regal 26. A flurry of penalties by both teams finalized in a short field goal as time expired, resulting in a 17-6 Regina advantage.
In the second half, the Regals controlled the game after they intercepted a pass at 8:57, stalling a Comet drive that began on the West Liberty 46 after another on-side kickoff.
The Regals scored two more touchdowns before the end of the night and booted home another field goal to roll to the 28 point win, their second of the year while the Comets lost their second straight to a 2020 playoff team.
The coach said penalties were the team’s downfall. “We had a few penalties that were grey area calls that went against us, so those are expected,” Iske said. “The false start and offside penalties are inexcusable and require us to be more focused. We took a step back there from week one.”
“As for the interceptions, I think there's a misconception that the quarterback is responsible for interceptions,” Iske explained. There are certainly times when he is, but interceptions usually tend to be a team stat with poor pass protection and/or route running factoring in as well. We need to clean up in all of those areas.”
The coach did compliment the running of star back Jahsiah Galvan, who finished with 106 yards in 20 carries. “Regina was definitely keying on him all night and due to a couple of injuries we weren't able to keep them as honest as we could have,” Iske said. “He ran hard and, for the most part, his blockers gave him a good opportunity to succeed.”
The coach complimented other Comets as well. “Mauricio Reed did a nice job for us on the offensive line and Felipe Molina played hard in all areas of the game (offense, defense, special teams). I was also happy with the way our receivers (Drake Collins, Josh Zeman, Blaze Maas, and Ty Jones) blocked on the perimeter,” Iske said. “There were other players who also made some good individual plays, but we need to be more consistent.”
Going to Independence
Iske expects Independence, the Comet’s next opponent who will be hosting on Friday with a 7:30 kickoff, to be “big and physical, very similar to our first two opponents.” He said Independence would have a size advantage on the Comets. “We need to be able to match their physicality,” the coach said. “They are a downhill run team and have 11 guys on defense who like to tackle. It will be another good challenge for us.”
The coach said his team must improve. “There isn't a player or position group that doesn't have something they need to improve on. “Like I said earlier, we have guys that can make plays, it is getting consistent to the point where we are doing our job and making those plays every snap,” he said.
Independence has a descent passing game as their senior quarterback Mitchell Johnson has thrown for four touchdowns and 283 yards in the first two games, but the real threat is running back Marcus Beatty, a senior who has carried the ball 70 times already this season for over 500 yards.
Independence is undefeated after beating Maquoketa 50-7 and Clear Lake-Amana 28-14.