The Comets are retooling their football team around heart and determination. After a slow start, watching players in key positions move-on from Hillcrest, the Comet coaching staff brought players back to the field to forge a new team and a new season. Friday nights 41-8 win over Laporte is a quick glimpse into the result of Hillcrest's hard work.
In watching Friday night's game it was easy to see the Comets were digging in for a tough battle. In each of their past contests Hillcrest played a stronger second half, often working to focus on fundamentals in defense to allow their offense to move the ball. Friday night the Comets moved up two quarters with their strategy, beginning the game with strong defense starting with their front six.
J.D. Nesje, Zak Zwiers, and Nate Frustol started the game with an exclamation point, forcing Laporte to the sidelines after a series of plays due to stout run defense. The grit displayed in the trenches transitioned to the offensive side, where Hillcrest is churning a new look over last year's high flying passing attack.
Hillcrest has a number of first-year players on their varsity offensive line. Blocking assignments have been mixed in past games, which has led to a sputtering offensive attack. But at the fourth game of the season, Hillcrest's coaches started to see a light bulb flicker on in the offensive line with two minutes left in the first quarter, and Hillcrest never looked back.
With 2:07 left in the first, after a 5 yard 4th down conversion by Thomas Zwiers, Hillcrest set in for a 1st down play on their own 44 yard line. When the ball passed from Zak Zwiers to Thomas Zwiers the offensive line met Laporte with a different sense of urgency. As Thomas faked a run, turning to Sam Ihrke for a smooth handoff, a hole opened on the left side. Ihrke sprinted toward the hole. A quick step toward the middle set the Laporte defenders back a step as Ihrke continued to bounce to the outside. He sprinted 44 yards for Hillcrest's first score of the year.
The score brought a significant shift in the mood of Hillcrest's sideline. It was a feeling that hasn't been felt by the Comets this year, and it was contagious. To open the second half, Hillcrest started with a run play that spanned 61 yards as Ihrke again bounced to the outside, this time cutting back to break through a handful of tacklers for a touchdown. The run was more a statement from Ihrke than a well-designed play. The Comets are taking on a new identity as a team this year.
Ihrke went on to score three more times in the 2nd quarter, running downhill for an 11 yard score and 23 trudge to the endzone that was all heart. To close out the first half, Ihrke caught the only completed pass from scrimmage on the night for Hillcrest, an 8 yard swing pass off the left side, giving the Comets a 35-0 lead at half.
The ball moved consistently for Hillcrest in the second half, as Ihrke was spelled by first year player Jowell Seymour and Comet speedster Noah Fischer. Zwiers continued to manage the clock with his team holding tightly to a lead thanks to a consistent wall from the defensive front.
Zwiers found a seam at the goal line in the third quarter for a two yard bash and bang play where he appeared to be stood up at the line, but pushed forward for a score. Nick Foss completed another extra point attempt, seeing more work in the second and third quarter than he's seen in the three games prior.
Laporte opened the 4th quarter with a 35 yard TD run, the Comet line's only big miscue from the game. The 41-8 score to start the fourth quarter is how the game would read as the final buzzer sounded and the Comets rushed the field.
Hillcrest pulled together 314 yards of total offense on the night. Ihrke contributed 192 of those yards, 184 on the ground and 8 from the air. Sam finished with 5 TDs on the night.
The new look Comets will host Underwood on Friday night at John Luckey Field at Hillcrest Academy. The 7pm game will be livestreamed as the Comets hope to generate a win-streak before heading into homecoming week.