OTTUMWA – No one knew what to expect heading into what promised to be the most unique high school football season the state of Iowa has ever seen.
No matter how unusual things could have turned out, Landon Miller wanted to give his team a chance to experience a somewhat normal slate of games. The Comets became one of the first high school football teams to take the gridiron in 2020, a season played in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, facing Columbus on Aug. 21.
"They deserve to play nine games because they've worked so hard," Miller said prior to the start of the season. "Knowing that we were going to have seven regular-season games and a playoff game, we looked at the possibility of playing a Week 0 game. Columbus lost a game, we were going to host them in a scrimmage anyway, so we decided to make it a regular-season game.
"The kids were excited to play. That's why they practice. They want to be able to be out there playing under the lights on a Friday night."
Ultimately, to earn nine games, Miller's squad needed to do something no Comet football team had done in nearly 50 years. After having a regular-season contest at Pekin called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Panther program, Cardinal needed to beat Pekin in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs in order to earn that ninth game.
While the Comets needed plenty of offense to hold off Pekin, the 38-29 win at Tom Stone Field may not have happened without a huge defensive play. Maddux Jones recovered a fumble with the Panthers driving inside the 10-yard line and took it all the way back for a touchdown that put Cardinal up 32-21 in the fourth quarter.
"Anything can happen in any sort of time," Jones said. "We just pushed ourselves as hard as we could those last few minutes of the game. Pekin is a good team and they played hard."
The fumble recovery for a score was one of 18 turnovers collected by the opportunistic Cardinal defense with the fourth fumble recovery that turned into a touchdown. Big plays defensively helped the Comets clinch a winning season, finishing 5-4 with the program's first postseason victory, finishing second to Mediapolis in Class 1A, District 6 in total turnovers forced.
The Comets finished with three players earning All-Courier honors, two of which can be found on the defensive side of the ball. Leading Cardinal to a winning season, the first win over a longtime rival in nearly five decades and earning the program's first postseason win earns Miller the honor of being named the All-Courier football coach for the second time in three years.
This year’s All-Courier defense:
Seth Kargol, EBF, Sr.
Kargol made the most of his 31.5 total tackles, which including 20 solo tackles for the Rockets. The senior defensive end was one of just four players in Class 2A, District 7 to reach double figures in tackles for loss, scoring 10 stops in the backfield while finishing tied for second in the district with three sacks.
Brett Cormeny, Moravia, Sr.
Like Kargol, Cormeny was one of two area linemen to record over 50 total tackles this season finishing second on the Mohawks with 50.5 stops, including a team-leading 28 solo tackles. Cormeny also had several stops in the backfield, finishing with four sacks and 7.5 total tackles for loss and collected of Moravia's five interceptions.
Brant Tedrow, Van Buren County, Sr.
Tedrow was second to Bainbridge in total tackles this season, finishing with 48.5 up front for the Warriors with 29 solo tackles and matched Josiah Westercamp for the team lead with 1.5 sacks this season. Tedrow led Van Buren County with 2.5 tackles for loss.
Ian Liles, Cardinal, Jr.
On a team that forced 18 turnovers, Liles led the charge coming up with five including a team-leading three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. The Comet junior also had a team-leading five tackles for loss and scored seven total touchdowns on both sides of the ball, including his fumble recovery for a score in a 35-8 win over Wayne on Sept. 4.
Lucas Henderson, Centerville, Sr.
Henderson led all of Class 2A, District 8 with 53.5 total tackles, the only player in the district with to crack 50 tackles this past season. Henderson also head a district-leading three fumble recoveries, scoring a touchdown in a 41-6 win over Chariton to close out the regular season, while finishing fourth in the district with three sacks.
Shane Helmick, Moravia, Fr.
In his first season of varsity football, Helmick led the Mohawk defense with 54 total tackles including 5.5 tackles for loss. The first-year linebacker made 5.5 tackles for loss.
Cade Molyneux, Sigourney-Keota, Jr.
Another versitle athlete on the gridiron, Molyneux was second on the Cobras in touchdowns on offense while starting at quarterback with nine rushing touchdowns and eight passing touchdowns for 17 total scores. Defensively, Molyneux was second to Mediapolis sophomore Anthony Isley in Class 1A, District 6 with 41 solo tackles while finishing with 53.5 total tackles, just one shy of Colten Clarahan for the S-K team lead. Molyneux added 5.5 total tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks.
Landon Becker, Cardinal, Jr.
Becker matched Mediapolis sophomore Levi Arnold with the most fumble recoveries in Class 1A, District 6, collecting three recoveries with two coming in a 74-0 win over Van Buren County back on Oct. 2 matching Blaine Bryant by returning a fumble for a score against the Warriors. Becker also had an interception, 30 total tackles, 18 solo stops and four tackles for loss.
Wyatt Sieren, Sigourney-Keota, Sr.
Sieren teamed up with Brady Duwa to present a leathel secondary combination for the Cobras. Combined, the S-K seniors picked off nine passes as the Cobras collected a district-leading 11 interceptions this season. Perhaps no interception was bigger than Sieren's pick against Beckman Catholic in a 35-14 win in the Class 1A state playoffs as the S-K senior stopped the first deep drive for the Trailblazers inside the S-K 20 to preserve a 14-0 first-half lead.
Dawson Townsend, Davis County, Jr.
Townsend sparked the Mustang secondary this season, collecting four interceptions this season to lead all players in Class 2A, District 6. Townsend collected two of Davis County's three interceptions in a 34-14 win over Central Lee, including a third-quarter pick that stopped Central Lee with the Mustangs leading 20-14.
Alex Garman, EBF, Jr.
Garman was one of four players in 2A, District 6 to pick off three passes this season. The junior led the Rockets this season by collecting four total turnovers.
Jesus Jaime, Ottumwa, Sr.
Jaime is on a roll for the Bulldogs, following up his first all-state campaign on the baseball diamond by earning third-team all-state honors for the first time on the gridiron this fall. While Jaime was an stallwart on Ottumwa's defensive line, where he earned All-Courier honors last season, it was on special teams that Jaime stood out this year finishing with 42.3-yard average on 20 punts, including a 54-yard average on four punts against Ames in the home and regular-season finale for the Bulldogs back on Oct. 9.
Landon Miller, Cardinal
For the second time in three years, Miller is the All-Courier football coach after leading the Comets to unprecedented success. Cardinal broke through to finish with a winning record, going 5-4 with the first-ever postseason win recorded in a thrilling 38-29 triumph at Pekin, the first victory in almost 50 years for the program over the Panthers.