Boys' State Soccer

Sensational season ends in semis

Comets beat Western Christian in overtime, fall to Van Meter at Drake Stadium


For the fourth time in five seasons, the Comets are bringing a state semifinalist plaque back to West Liberty.

It was an exciting week of action that ultimately ended 40 minutes shy of the elusive title game, but the Comets were able to drive home with their heads held high.

West Liberty knocked off the defending state champions from Western Christian 2-1 before falling to the eventual runners-up from Van Meter 2-0.

“To get here is a work in itself. They know the process. I think that’s what hurts more,” Comet coach Walton Ponce said at the end of his team’s run. “We know how hard we have to work to get back here. That’s why we’re here. 

“Obviously, it keeps evading us. We have to keep working to get to that final game and have a shot for that title.”

Songa goes golden

The first step in the journey could not be more difficult — defeat the reigning champions.

The Western Christian Wolfpack, the No. 4 seed, had all the ingredients to defend their title. But the Comets knew they had a recipe for success too.

Right away, West Liberty applied the pressure at the James W. Cownie Soccer Park.

In the 24th minute, senior midfielder Bruce Songa took a left-footed swing at a free kick from just inside the Wolfpack’s box. 

It was a direct strike off the keeper’s hands who deflected it straight into his own net to give the Comets an early advantage.

However, it didn’t last long. Western Christian responded exactly four minutes later with a free kick of their own as a result of a West Liberty yellow card.

A direct strike from Miles Baccam from just outside the box was slotted perfectly over the head of keeper David Hernandez for the equalizer.

It was a scoreless game at the half, but the Wolfpack could not ask for a better opportunity to take the lead in the 64th minute with a penalty kick.

Once again it was Baccam who looked for his second solo goal. But it was Hernandez who won this battle, beating Baccam to the left post and corralled the shot.

“There was nothing to lose there,” Hernandez said. “I just picked a side honestly. No explanation behind it. It kept us alive. It kept us in it. I’m just glad I was able to save that PK.”

Ponce added, “I talked to the ref afterwards. (The foul) probably not a PK. I think karma allowed that to not be it.”

As it turned out, it was a decisive moment in the match. After his save, the Comet sidelines began to play the school’s fight song over a portable speaker. The winds were starting to turn.

The Comets were able to push the match into overtime and it was time for Songa to strike again.

In the 88th minute, Comet senior Pascual Pedro broke away from his defender on the sideline opposite the team benches and crossed it into the box.

It ended at the feet of sophomore Uriel Andrade who had a point-blank look at the net. The ball got deflected by a Wolfpack defender, and chaos ensured in front of the net.

Western Christian’s goalkeeper couldn’t get his hands on it. Nobody from the defending team could clear it.

The ball eventually popped back out to Pedro, who jammed the ball back toward the middle of the box.

There, Songa waited, as was the plan all along. And he slammed the door shut on a potential state championship repeat.

“When I kicked it, when it left my foot, in the moment I didn’t think it was going in,” Songa recalled. “I thought it was going over the bar. But it went in.”

Songa flung his shirt into the air as a dogpile engulfed him and his teammates. Fans rushed the pitch to celebrate. It was pure euphoria.

“That’s our captain right there,” Ponce said of Songa. “He’s the one that we worked on with this all along. He’s supposed to clean it up. And he was there. He was there as asked. I’m so excited for him.

“It all started with (Andrade) working his tail off. I asked him for 20 minutes. I didn’t want to go to PK’s; I wanted to finish the game. Just work. Work. All the work we did to get here, this was it. His hard work earned that goal.”

The golden goal earned West Liberty its fourth trip to the state semifinals in the previous five seasons.

“The team found a way to win,” Songa said. “Everything we’ve worked for has finally paid off… This is what we wanted. Everyone doubted us, but we’re here. We beat the champs.” 

Returning from the high

The Comets wanted a rematch with top-seeded West Branch in the semifinals. But after the Bears were unable to get out of the opening round, a matchup with No. 8 seed Van Meter seemed like a solid alternative.

After an exciting quarterfinal for both teams, West Liberty and Van Meter played to an even draw in the first half of the semifinals.

There was only one corner kick in the entire half and two total shots on goal for both teams combined.

Soon, the Bulldogs ratcheted up the intensity.

A ball crossed in from Micah Simeck, junior Caleb Moore lit up the empty

scoreboard in the 46th minute with a header which he scored from his knees and bounced the ball off the turf and into the net.

In the 60th, it was freshman Adam Boeck with a little tap shot over the head of Hernandez. An equally soft header from Henry Lounsbury caught the defense off guard, and Boeck caught up to it for the goal.

Neither goal had many miles per hour attached to it, but they all count the same. West Liberty was unable to mount a response and ended their season at Drake Stadium.

If the Comets couldn’t win the title, nobody in the River Valley Conference would. 

After West Branch lost in the quarterfinals, the Iowa City Regina Regals fell in the semifinals to the eventual state champions, North Fayette Valley, 1-0 in double overtime.

The TigerHawks won their first-ever boys’ state soccer championship with two first-half goals and shutout defense to beat the Bulldogs at Mediacom Stadium.

But for West Liberty, they know there is still more to come. Despite graduating six seniors, the Comets will have the opportunity to return Hernandez in net and Andrade who led the team with 20 goals this season.

“Not seeing the seniors anymore after this year is going to hurt,” Ponce said. “It’s a group that loves the sport. And we are part of a super tight community that supports us every step of the way.

“You can definitely see the emotion. It’s good. That means I know the buy-in is there.”