ANAMOSA - It’s not uncommon in a close setback to look back and see plenty of missed opportunities.
But, for Anamosa football coach Lucas Stanton, his team’s 22-21 loss to a very good West Liberty team, who has been receiving votes in the AP top-10 rankings in class 2A, the one-point defeat was especially painful.
“We had so many chances to win this game but just couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities,” he said. “The first half was especially tough. We blocked four punts but were only able to score after one of them and three of the turnovers that we had in the game they turned into touchdowns twice.
“That, and having things like missed extra points and two-point tries are really magnified in a one-point game that was right there for the taking.”
That was the bad news.
The good news, the Raiders showed vast improvement from their week-2 beatdown at Iowa City Regina just seven days earlier by out-gaining the Comets 290-281 in total offense, as sophomore Grahm Humpal made his first career varsity start at quarterback.
“Grahm did well for the most part,” Stanton said. “He adjusted to the speed of the game and settled in and moved the team down the field on several very impressive drives. He made some good reads, too. What we didn’t want was three turnovers. Taking care of the ball is our No. 1 priority, but he’ll get better at understanding situations and risks involved in certain situations. All-in-all, we did a lot of good things.”
It didn’t start out that way however, as Anamosa fumbled on their opening possession, and the Comets quickly pounced on the opportunity.
West Liberty’s Will Esmoil raced 26-yards into the end zone on their first play from scrimmage, and the visitors had Raider fans in shock leading 7-0 less than two-minutes into the contest.
The Anamosa defense forced the Comets to punt on their next two possessions, and amazingly blocked both setting the Raider offense up inside the West Liberty 20-yard-line.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get any points out of either of those opportunities,” Stanton said. “When we look back at it, those were big plays in the game.”
Another Anamosa fumble early in the second quarter again quickly turned into West Liberty points when Esmoil ran 19-yards into the end zone and handed the Comets a 15-0 advantage.
“We blocked another punt, this time in the second quarter, and this time we took advantage,” Stanton said. “We got the ball deep in their territory again, and finally made the plays we needed to make.”
Humpal completed a 14-yard scoring pass play to Nolan McLean that got the hosts on the board with 5:40 to play before the half. After a failed extra point kick, the Raiders trailed 15-6.
But they were just getting started.
After getting the ball back again, Humpal and Colton Borst hooked up on a sensational 56-yard touchdown strike with 3:58 to play in the second quarter. A failed two-point pass play had Anamosa trailing just 15-12.
“We had everything rolling at that point,” Stanton said. “We blocked another punt. Seth Schoon made a 21-yard field goal to tie the game and there were just 45-seconds left on the clock. It looked like we were going to take all the momentum into the half.”
Instead, the Comets took it right back.
West Liberty quarterback Talen Dengler heaved a pass up towards the Raider end zone and miraculously had receiver Gavin Chown come down with the ball for the Hail Mary touchdown with no time remaining on the clock.
“After our slow start and falling into that 15-0 hole, we had played so well,” Stanton said. “So, to end the half with a play like that was really disappointing. That was one of those instances where you just have to tip your cap to West Liberty. They made a play.”
But Anamosa still showed no quit, responding in the third quarter when Alex Casey blasted into the end zone from 20-yards out. After a failed extra point kick which would have knotted the score, the hosts trailed 22-21.
“We still gave ourselves some opportunities to win the game,” Stanton said. “We just couldn’t finish them off.”
The Raiders drove the football inside the Comet five-yard-line with under five-minutes to play in the game, but then had losses on three straight plays that pushed the team out to the 32, and out of field goal range.
“All game long I felt our offense was really able to pick up the pace on the West Liberty defense,” Stanton said. “But, on some third down and red-zone situations, I felt like we needed to slow ourselves down a bit. We made too many mistakes in those situations and it wound up costing us the game. We didn’t get point when we should have and we’ll make some adjustments there as we go forward.”
The opportunity proved to be the final one of the game for the Raiders, who walked off the field with the heartbreaking one-point loss.
Humpal had a big game completing 16-of-23 passes for 195 yards while he also led the Anamosa ground game rushing for 85 yards.
Borst and Casey paced the improved Raider defense coming through with nine tackles each
“We did a lot of good things in this game,” Stanton said. “This was by far our best defensive game of the year, and our attitude and effort was outstanding. The kids played so hard all game long. We’re definitely getting better, but we want games like this to end in wins, not losses, in the very near future. We’ll get there.”