Behind a stingy defense and another 200-plus yard rushing performance from junior halfback Jahsiah Galvan, the West Liberty High School football team accomplished something they hadn’t done in 16 years Friday night - they knocked off the rival West Branch Bears 20-7.
Although the fifth ranked 1A Bears were playing without their star quarterback, Gavin Hierseman, the seventh ranked 2A Comets pulled off the upset with their first victory over the neighboring rivals since 2004, losing nine previous outings.
The path to victory started on the wrong foot for the Comets in their first home game on senior night, turning the ball over in their opening possession and giving the Bears positive field position to start their opening drive on the host end of the field following a fumble recovered by Bear senior Morgan Hartz.
The Comet defense showed how resilient they would be through the night, shutting down the Bears in the next four downs and taking the ball over on their own 35.
The Comets quickly took advantage on their second opportunity, as Galvan escaped down the right side of the field, going 65 yards to the endzone on the opening play, stunning the crowd as West Liberty took a 7-0 lead on a Ruperto Martinez extra-point kick.
When asked what has got Gavin off to a great start this season coach Jason Iske simply said “Jasiah," accompanied by a laugh. “He’s a heck of a ball player. I think everybody’s just starting to figure it out. Maybe we kept it a secret for too long,” the coach said.
The teams would trade punts before starting off the second period with a bang. With seven minutes to play in the half and the Comets facing a fourth and seven on the Bear 33, West Liberty changed up their run attack after calling a time out.
This time, junior quarterback Caleb Wulf connected with senior wide receiver Lake Newton over the middle, and Newton shredded a host of Bears to eventually dive into the endzone to give the Comets a 13-0 lead after Martinez’s kick went wide left.
West Branch wasn’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet. The Bears scored on a 67 yard drive capped by a QB sneak by senior Kelby Burger with 36 seconds left in the half after the Comets shut the door on a 10 yard pass play to Simon Palmer, West Liberty’s defender just keeping him outside the endzone.
The Comet lead was sliced in half after an extra point kick, going to the halftime locker room with a 13-7 lead.
West Branch took the opening kick of the second half but couldn’t move the ball against the stingy Comet defense and then shanked a punt to give the Comets great field position and three runs by Galvan got West Liberty to the Bear 23. The Comets went back to the air, missing a first pass before Wulf threw an interception near the goal line, West Branch taking possession on the three.
Again, the West Branch defense arose to the occasion, forcing a punt that carried 34 yards to the West Branch 43. On second down, Galvan did his thing again, this time through the air, catching a Wulf swing pass behind the line of scrimmage before scrambling 40 yards to paydirt to take a two possession lead again. Martinez would make it 20-7 in the third quarter.
The Comet defense continued to put on a showcase in the second half as the Bears failed to score in their final two possessions and would be forced to punt for the remainder of the game.
“They started driving on us late in the second half. We put more guys in the box and trusted our secondary to do their job,” Iske said of the second half effort. Step up they did, the Comet defense allowed just 80 passing yards on the night.
The Comets took control of the ball with seven minutes remaining in the game. A combination of poise from signal caller Caleb Wulf and the running ability of Galvan helped the Comets finish the game without giving the ball back to the Bears, ending on the West Branch 11 yard line.
Galvan ran for 222 yards in the game on 24 carries, averaging 9.25 yards per rush to lead the Comets to a 256 yard ground game. West Liberty had another 111 yards through the airways for a total of 350 yards, doubling West Branch's 145 yard total.
Honored on senior night for the Comets were eight players including Sam Gingerich, Austin Elizalkde, Lake Newton, Cobe Simon, David Molina, Ruperto Martinez, Chance Thrasher and Zajit Melchor.
The Comets improve to 2-0 on the season and are scheduled to start their district slate Friday at home against Maquoketa, which hasn’t played yet this season due to COVID issues. That game is scheduled to kick off at 7:15 p.m.