On a wet Friday night, the West Liberty High School Comets football team suffered their first loss of the season to Maquoketa, 27-6, on Memorial Field in West Liberty.
The visiting Cardinals, which had to cancel their first two games of the season after a player tested positive for COVID-19, used an unstoppable running attack and a stingy defense to give West Liberty their first loss in three games.
The night opened on a promising note as senior Lake Newton took the opening kick across midfield to the Cardinal 45. Despite a six-yard gain by junior Jashiah Galvan on first down, a false start stalled the opportunity, the Comets going four and out. A Galvan punt pinned the ball inside the Cardinal 20.
Maquoketa executed a long drive down the field as the Comet defense failed to halt the Cardinal inside running game lead by junior quarterback Hunter Manning. The Cardinals marched right down the field with run after run, finally punching the ball in on a quarterback sneak by Manning before missing the ensuing extra point to take a 6-0 lead.
The Comets once again set themselves up well following a kick return by sophomore Joshua Zeman, getting the ball to their own 35-yard line. Galvan, the team’s best running back, got the ball on the next four plays, but West Liberty failed to convert on third and short, handing the ball back over to the Cardinals on the Comet side of the 50.
Maquoketa overcame a couple of offensive penalties before ultimately punching the ball in from two-yards out to build the margin to 12-0 before the first quarter could come to a close.
The Comet return unit would continue to shine against the Cardinals, as Newton once again brought the kickoff back 25 yards to put the Comets in position to open a drive around their own 40-yard line.
The Comet offense looked to be building momentum following a five-yard completion to Ty Jones and an eight-yard run by Galvan, but an interception of a Caleb Wulf pass brought the Comets most successful offensive possession to that point to an end.
Maquoketa again faced little resistance marching their way from mid-field to the endzone, converting a two-point conversion to lead 20-0.
After a Ty Jones kick return, Drake Collins pulled in a short pass for a three-yard gain on second down, but the Comets drive would quickly stall on a second Maquoketa interception.
This time, however, West Liberty kept the visitors from the endzone, Galvan picking off a Maquoketa pass before racing down the visitor’s sidelines to put the hosts in good field position again. But the Comets couldn’t move the ball toward their endzone again and time ran out before half.
The Comet defense showed up early in the second half, forcing a strip sack on Maquoketa’s opening drive. The Cardinals converted on fourth and short before a holding penalty forced a punt for the first time on the evening, but the visitors burned over six minutes of clock so the Comets knew they may not get many opportunities to score.
The Comets failed to find any traction on their opening drive of the half and the teams traded punts before the Comets were able to start another decent drive, Galvan finally breaking loose for 12 yards before losing his footing on the wet grass. The Comet drive stalled and they would punt the ball away.
Maquoketa scored their only touchdown of the second half on their last meaningful possession of the night to take a commanding 27-0 lead.
The Comets got an opportunity to wipe the goose egg off the board before the close of the game. In a possession that saw Galvan capture the Lion's share of his yards on the night, the Comets cut the lead to 27-6, failing on the two point conversion, followed by another failed opportunity when they couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick.
The game ended rather unceremoniously, with the Comets falling to the Cardinals 27-6. The normally potent Comet offensive recorded just 160 yards of total offense, almost outdone by their 138 yards in returns.
Comet sophomore Drake Collins put in a valiant effort from his position at middle linebacker for a Comet defense that would give up 355 yards on the ground, recording 12.5 tackles with 11 solos.