Two breakdowns on defense and missed opportunities on offense added up to a season-opening loss Friday for the Waupaca Comet football team.
Appleton Xavier used a 60-yard touchdown run by Jimmy Schmidt in the second quarter and an 84-yarder from Matt Siciliano in the third to hand the Comets a 21-14 loss at Haberkorn Field.
Schmidt’s run was the only scoring for either team in the first half, but Waupaca had chances, according to coach John Koronkiewicz.
“I thought we had numerous opportunities to put points on the board in the first half,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had a breakdown in one place or another, so we have to improve on that.”
Siciliano’s score gave the Hawks a 14-0 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Waupaca answered with a 2-yard run from Beau Ash with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter after the Comets converted two fourth-and-1s on 14-play, 73-yard drive. Bjorn Asher’s extra point try sailed to the right and the Hawks led 14-6.
Xavier added to its lead with quarterback Ben Jensen’s 14-yard run and Jack Klister intercepted a pair of Harley Anderson passes to keep Waupaca out of the end zone. The first pick came at the Hawks’ 1-yard line with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. The second gave Xavier the ball at their own 20-yard line.
“We got down there a couple of different times,” Koronkiewicz said. “We missed an opportunity that ended up being an interception at the 1-foot line. We go in there and that gives us a little more time to do some other things. Maybe they start to panic.”
The Comets cut the deficit to 21-14 with Anderson’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Zach Nellis with 1:36 remaining in the game. Anderson then connected with Marcus Johnson for the two-point conversion, but the Hawks were able to pick up a first down on their next drive and run out the clock.
“To the credit of our guys, I’m happy with the way they continued to fight,” Koronkiewicz said. “We had a chance, even at the end. We just had to get one more big play on defense, get a stop, make them punt the ball with a minute left and see what happens.
“That’s what our program is built on,” he added. “We’re going to play every second of every game. I’m happy we were able to do that. We just didn’t make a play here or there that made a difference. Defensively, I thought we played very well at times, but we gave up two big plays. You just can’t give up those long runs. We take those two away and it’s a different game.”
The Comets were able to come back by playing more physical football in second half in the second half, Koronkiewicz said.
“We just didn’t quite get it done,” he said. “We missed out on an opportunity to score early in the third quarter and missed out on another opportunity early in the fourth quarter. Maybe you can get those if you’re a little more hungry. We have to season ourselves as football players and get hungrier during the contest itself.”
The two touchdown runs accounted for 144 of the Hawks’ 184 rushing yards. Anderson completed 12 of 25 passes for 156 yards, but the Xavier defense held Waupaca to 131 rushing yards in 36 carries.
“We took a look at what they were doing defensively and really, they hadn’t done anything that we hadn’t prepared for,” Koronkiewicz said. “We told our guys that we had to be a little more physical up front. That’s the difference. You have to be better and more physical and that’s what we need to work on. This is a new experience for our offensive line. They had never played a down before. At times, I thought they hung in there pretty well. We probably did a better job of pass protection than run blocking, but in this particular game, you have to be able to run the football, no question about that.”
Anderson led Waupaca’s ground game with 75 yards in 15 carries.
The Comets will travel to Freedom to take on the Irish at 7 p.m. Friday. Although Freedom has struggled in recent years against Waupaca, the Comets will have to come out focused, Koronkiewicz said.
“We have to be ready each and every contest because the teams in our league are all very good,” he said. “This is just the beginning. Xavier is traditionally very strong, but if you take a look at our conference, I think there are any number of teams that have the potential to be very good this year. Hopefully, we can take a look at the film and come back a little more focused. That’s why you have to play, to see what you have to work on. Unfortunately, it’s a conference game and you’re playing on the bottom and trying to fight your way back up to the top.
“You can’t keep your head down and you have to move forward,” he said. “This is only the first game and we have a long season ahead of us. If we continue to play with the kind of effort we showed here today, we’ll get better as the season progresses and that’s all you can ask of anybody.”