The Waupaca Comets’ pass defense wasn’t exactly up to snuff against Appleton Xavier. The rushing game? Well, that’s another story.
The Comets ran for a season-high 401 yards Sept. 28 in a 42-28 win over the Hawks at Rocky Bleier Field. Quarterback Sam Menzies had more than half of that total, as he finished with 33 carries for 247 yards.
Beau Ash added 15 carries for 101 yards and passed Mike Solberg as the Comets’ all-time leading rusher. He needed 30 yards going into the game.
While Menzies, Ash and the Comets were piling up the yards on the ground, Xavier was doing plenty of damage through the air, as quarterbacks Matt Ferris and Ben Jensen teamed up to complete 31 of 52 passes for 331 yards.
“You have to give our defense some credit for coming up with the stops they did come up with,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “That’s a very difficult offense to defend. They’re putting four or five guys enroute, their quarterback is standing back 7 or 8 yards and it’s a 10-yard sprint to try and get to him. A lot of times, the ball’s out of his hands just as you’re getting close.”
Koronkiewicz was expecting a high-scoring game, even though the Hawks came into the game with a 1-4 record.
“Watching them on film, it’s exactly what I anticipated,” he said. “I told myself we’re going to have to score 28 points and hope our defense can hold them because they just do too many things.”
The Comets found the end zone twice in the first five minutes of the game. Ash scored from 9 yards out after Zander Neuville recovered a fumbled punt return, while Josh Houtman’s interception on the Hawks’ next drive led to Menzies’ 53-yard touchdown run with 7:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Hawks tied the game with a pair of scores later in the quarter, as Ferris hit Levi O’Brien with a 4-yard TD pass and later connected with Brent Mantzke with a 15-yard pass after a Comet fumble.
Waupaca regained the lead with a pair of scores in the second quarter. Menzies capped a seven-play, 64-yard drive with a 21-yard run and scored from a yard out on the final play of the first half to give Waupaca a 28-14 lead.
That 99-yard drive that took up most of the second quarter came after Xavier fumbled the ball on the Comet 1-yard line.
“Once it was tied, it was anybody’s game,” Koronkiewicz said. “You have to give our guys credit for coming back and sticking two in the end zone.”
Waupaca extended its lead with Menzies’ 2-yard pass to Nate Nelson late in the third quarter, but Jensen tossed a 17-yard strike to Ferris on Xavier’s next drive. Nelson added a 13-yard run in the fourth quarter and Ferris wrapped up the scoring with a 5-yard TD pass to Brady Johnson.
“Sam Menzies was a warrior today,” Koronkiewicz said. “He had a lot of carries out there and he got hit hard. You have to give some credit to our offensive line because those were tough yards. Those weren’t gimmie yards.
“We didn’t necessarily have to score, but we had to take time off the clock each and every possession, which we were able to do,” he added. “I think that was the difference in the contest.”
Although the Comets were able to find the end zone six times, they were also flagged for 11 penalties for 101 yards.
“Our kids are trying to play aggressive football and sometimes you have to accept that,” Koronkiewicz said. “That’s just how it is. We can say there were close calls. Our guys aren’t intentionally hitting a guy late. It’s by a step if it’s any. Those are things that happen during the course of a football game.”
Waupaca improved to 6-0 and 5-0 in the Eastern Valley Conference, while the Hawks fell to 1-4 in league play and 1-5 overall. The Comets will host Fox Valley Lutheran at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, at Haberkorn Field for Parents’ Night.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Koronkiewicz said of his team’s latest win. “If you expected Xavier to give up or lay down, it wasn’t going to happen. We knew that. They have a great deal of pride in their program. This is the first game where we had to play four quarters of football. You could see the grit and determination on the faces of our guys. We still had a lot of guys come in and make plays for us. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”