The Ottumwa Courier


October 25, 2012

West Liberty holds off Albia, 42-37

ALBIA — Nobody would have been surprised midway through the second quarter to see West Liberty celebrating a second straight postseason win at Albia on Wednesday night.

Midway through the second half, it appeared the celebration would be shifting to other sidelines by then end of the night.

In the end, West Liberty found a way to bring another successful football season in Monroe County to a sudden end. Despite losing a 28-0 lead and giving up over 500 yards of offense to Albia, the Comets forced four turnovers including two on the final two Blue Demon drives that went deep into West Liberty territory.

And when Austin Luse was brought down on a free kick return as time expired, the Comets found a way to escape with a wild 42-37 win in the first round of the Class 2A state football playoffs. West Liberty celebrated while Albia players left dejected in a sight so painfully familiar for Blue Demon fans.

“I’m proud of our guys for battling back, but it’s disappointing that we didn’t catch punts, let them roll deep into our territory and fumbled the football. You can’t do that if you expect to advance up the ladder.”

“Hats off to West Liberty. They played well enough to win. They didn’t put the ball on the ground a lot and we did. The team that makes the fewest mistakes at this time of year is the one that’s going to win.”

It was an amazing final result after an equally amazing turnaround that occurred in the first half alone. West Liberty came out and established their dominance, scoring on their first four possessions as Comet quarterback Tyler Newsom threw for a score and ran in two more to quite the Albia crowd by opening a 28-0 lead.

“Even before we saw them on film, we knew what Albia was going to do. There are some things that we were going in to specifically try and spoil,” West Liberty head coach Ben Slife said. “We have a great coaching staff that put together a great game plan and the kids executed it.”

With their running game stalling out, Albia turned to the pass to get back in the contest. So began a big night through the air for Blue Demon quarterback Brett Leshen who connected on three big pass plays to Zach Hugen, including 23-yard fourth-down completion in the endzone that got Albia on the board.

Leshen wasn’t done as the junior signal caller passed for 156 yards in the opening half, much of which came on three straight scoring drives to close out the first half. Leshen found Ryan Sarver from 14 yards for a second touchdown in the final four minutes of the half, then parlayed a Sarver interception into a second 23-yard touchdown toss to Hugen as the half expired to pull Albia within 28-22.

“This is a game of adversity. We preach that every day to our kids and I told them that Albia was good enough to overcome something like a 28-0 deficit,” Slife said. “We couldn’t afford to get complacent.”

“I think going up 28-0 like that made us a little too overconfident,” Newsom added. “(Albia’s) a great team. Hugen made some great catches to get them back into it.”

By the end of the night, Hugen had caught six passed for 157 yards including a huge third-down conversion to help Albia move down the field for their first score of the second half. The running game began to take over as Austin Luse and Alex Schultz scored on consecutive drives as Albia tied the game at 35-35 heading into the fourth quarter.

“The running game just wasn’t there in the first half and we don’t dance with a dead woman. We’ll move on to the next thing and the passing game is what got us going,” Staton said. “In the second half, though, we really started running it hard.”

After losing their 28-0 lead, West Liberty appeared to be on the verge of losing their playoff opener. Instead, the Comets made a key fourth-quarter stand to get the ball back near midfield, which led to Newsom finding Riley Anderson for a 47-yard screen pass that set up the go-ahead touchdown pass to Brent Becker from 10 yards out.

“That play to was open all night,” Newsom said of the big play to Anderson. “We knew it was going to be a little harder when they dropped a man off in coverage. I just had to careful with my touch and Riley made a great catch and run for us.”

By the time the night was over, Albia (8-2) ran 80 plays and outgained West Liberty 526-290 in total offense. The Comets (5-4) countered by forcing Leshen into a fumble on West Liberty’s 15 and got a Daniel Jacques interception inside the Comet 20 with under two minutes left to clinch a second-round trip to top-ranked Mediapolis next Monday.

“I’m proud of this team and I’m proud of this program,” Staton said after leading Albia to their third straight postseason appearance, the longest streak in program history. “Albia loves their football now, but I’m disappointed because I thought our kids had an excellent chance to move further this season.

“Maybe we can do it in 2013.”

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