West Liberty Coach Jason Iske was checking in helmets, shoulder pads and various equipment after the season a couple years ago.
While handling all of the gear, Iske and other coaches began to assess the program’s stock. It was at that moment they realized the Comets had the potential to turn the corner and begin something big.
“Probably the end of the 2016 season where we were taking inventory of our underclassmen and who we’ve got,” Iske said. “We knew we had special guys coming up.”
West Liberty proved its coach correct, reaching the playoffs in consecutive seasons and advancing to the Class 2A state football semifinals for the first time since 1987 and just the second time in school history. The Comets (8-3) face top-ranked Monroe PCM (11-0) Saturday night at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
Iske said the success, especially the postseason run, has an impact on the community and the team.
“It’s the first major success we’ve had in a while and the community is embracing the heck out of it,” Iske said. “I have a feeling, come Saturday, that Dome is going to be West Liberty North. We’re going to pack that thing so well.
“For our program, it’s great. We’ve got all the little kids and junior-high kids that get to see the Comets play in the Dome. I think that’s going to take their hopes and dreams up a notch.”
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Those future Comets have a good example to follow. West Liberty has won seven straight games after a 1-3 non-district start and has not lost to a 2A team this season.
The defense has been a driving force for the Comets, who allow 14 points per game. The numbers shrink to 10.1 points per game against 2A teams. West Liberty hasn’t allowed more than two scores in eight games, including a 42-14 quarterfinal victory at No. 4 Benton Community and 30-10 playoff opener against No. 7 Chariton.
“I think everything starts with our defense, if you want to talk Xs and Os,” Iske said. “It’s all about our defense. We have a tough defense.”
The defensive front in a 3-4 attack has been a difference maker. Interior linemen Spencer Daufeldt, Cobain Pohlman and Kobe Simon have teamed for 12 sacks and 32 solo tackles for loss. Linebackers Will Esmoil and Coy Ruess have complemented them well, compiling 85 and 55 tackles, respectively, ranking first and third on the team.
“Obviously, we have Spencer, but Cobain Pohlman and Kobe Simon are unheralded on the defensive line for us,” Iske said. “We have two outstanding outside linebackers in Will and Coy. They’ve done a good job keeping everything contained inside and letting those defensive linemen and middle linebackers make plays.”
Daufeldt is connected to the Comets’ last semifinal appearance. His father, Matt, was a lineman on the 1987 squad.
The younger Daufeldt is the pillar in the center of this unit. The 6-foot-1, 275-pounder has 65.5 tackles, including 50 solo. He has 15 solo tackles for loss with 3.5 assists and five sacks. Iske wasn’t sure where to start when describing Daufeldt’s ability that continues to attract college attention.
“He’s got the strength,” Iske said. “He’s intelligent. He’s very football savvy. He picks up on tendencies. He watches a lot of film and asks a lot of great questions. He really wants to know the ins and outs of what our opponents are doing.
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“He’s able to pick up on those nuances to go along with his strength and athletic ability. It makes him that complete player.”
Daufeldt, who also plays offensive guard, is capable of taking over and dominating a game. He also helps get teammates in the right position. If he’s not making the play, he is occupying blockers to free up other Comets to clean things up.
“You can’t single block him,” Iske said. “I’d say if you double team him that half the time he’s going to get through. We’ve seen a few teams try to triple team him and he doesn’t move.”
Offensively, senior quarterback Seth Feldman leads the way. He has thrown for 1,485 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 58.7 percent of his passes. He has spread the ball around, hitting Lake Newton and Esmoil 25 times each and Talen Dengler 24 times. Newton has a team-high 546 receiving yards, while his five TDs is one shy of Dengler.
Feldman also leads the Comets with 664 yards and 12 scores on the ground, making him a dual threat.
“He’s a three-year starter,” Iske said. “He’s come a long way. Honestly, he’s kind of a ‘mini me’ on the field. Seth is really great to have.”
PCM has been one of the top teams in 2A the last two seasons, winning 11 straight since an upset loss early in the 2017 playoffs to eventual runner-up Williamsburg. PCM leads 2A with 2,230 passing yards and 5,219 yards of total offense.
PCM boasts speed and athleticism.
“They’ve got multiple guys that are fast,” Iske said. “We have to make sure we are definitely sound in both our offense and defense. We have to make sure we know where their athletes are and do our jobs.”
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