WEST LIBERTY, Iowa − When West Liberty head coach Jason Iske reflected on his team’s dominant 34-3 home win over Mid Prairie Friday night, one word came to mind.
“Resiliency,” Iske said. “They handled adversity well tonight.”
Though the final score may not show it, the Comets certainly did have to overcome adversity, but most of it was self-inflicted. They committed five penalties for 55 yards in the first half, and two of those penalties, both holding calls, wiped out big plays.
The first came on the Comets' opening possession. Senior Joe Kelly was stuffed on third down, but pitched the ball back to senior Tanner Iske, who weaved his way through the Golden Hawks’ defense for a touchdown only to have it called back. The second penalty negated a long run by junior quarterback Seth Feldman to the Mid-Prairie one-yard line, and West Liberty botched the snap on the ensuing field goal.
Even so, Kelly broke loose for a 43-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and the Comets still led 6-0 at halftime. Jason Iske knows it would have been easy for his team to get discouraged, as Friday night was reminiscent of West Liberty’s season-opening loss to West Branch where two touchdowns were called back.
“Our body language and our posture was so much different, so much better,” Jason Iske said. “Our leaders stepped up and kept us positive. We knew we're rolling, and we shut them out on defense. It was just penalties.”
Mid-Prairie busted a long kick return to the West Liberty 45-yard line, but its defense held strong and only allowed a field goal, which Iske said was huge to start the second half. The Comets (2-1, 1-0 Class 2A District 5) marched down the field, and Feldman, who finished with 170 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, rushed for a five-yard touchdown.
From there it was all West Liberty.
It wasn’t as if Mid-Prairie couldn’t move the ball, it was just unable to finish drives. Keaton Duwa rushed 20 times for 141 yards, and he led the Golden Hawks to the red zone with a chance to cut into the Comets 13-3 lead early in the third quarter. But Brad Tornow was intercepted by West Liberty junior AJ Lenz on the 17-yard line.
Tanner Iske and Kelly combined for 59 yards on the ensuing drive, and Tanner eventually punched it in with a seven-yard run to give the Comets a commanding 20-3 lead.
“They do what they do,” Jason Iske said. “Joe is just so allusive, and he has great vision. And Tanner, well, you can’t teach what he has.”
Tanner Iske rushed 12 times for 138 yards and one touchdown, while Kelly rushed 16 times for 116 yards and one touchdown, and it routinely took multiple defenders to tackle him.
“Nobody gets a good hit on that kid,” Jason Iske said. “I’ve been around West Liberty a long time and I’ve never seen a back better (than Kelly). That’s not any disrespect to any backs we’ve had in the past, but man he’s incredible.”
The Comets also opened up their passing attack in the second half, and it worked wonders as Feldman passed for 88 of his 114 yards after halftime, including a 20-yard touchdown to Lenz on a fourth down to put the game out of reach. The junior put the final nail in the coffin with a 36-yard touchdown run to give his team a 34-3 lead late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s always a good thing when you’re 1-0 in district play,” Jason Iske said. “I don’t care who you’re playing. We’re fortunate to have the guys that we do. It makes it easy and fun to coach.”
WL – Joe Kelly 43 run (Run failed), 1:24
MP – Terrhyn Jacoby field goal, 9:01
WL – Seth Feldman 5 run (Bryce Esmoil kick), 6:14
WL – Tanner Iske 7 run (Esmoil kick), 1:52
WL – AJ Lenz 20 pass from Feldman (Esmoil kick), 5:28
WL – Feldman 36 run (Esmoil kick), 3:16
West Liberty – Joe Kelly 16-116, Tanner Iske 12-138, Seth Feldman 6-56, AJ Lenz 1-2, Coy Ruess 1-4
Mid Prairie – Keaton Duwa 20-141, Brad Tornow 2-38, Grant Boyse 4-24
West Liberty – Feldman 12-14-0, 114
Mid Prairie – Tornow 6-12-1; Boyse 1-4-0
West Liberty – Justis Dengler 5-51, Kelly 2-17, Jackson Gingerich 2-17, Iske 1-14, Lenz 2-25, Gabriel Melendez 1- -5
Mid Prairie – Justin Schwartz 6-43, Jacoby 1-0