With the Comets down 22-0 midway through the first quarter coach Clark called a timeout to reset his offense. As water bottles passed between players Clark pulled aside a young wide receiver. His coaxing had the player explaining where he should've been. The call to action caused the player to volunteer to take another position in the second half after injuries caused the Comets to shuffle players. Clark's style causes some Comets to double-take, coming from other programs a coach may do anything short of a hand stand to inspire players. Clark implores players to engage. Their response is an important lesson for young men to learn early. Pressure doesn't need to inspire, but a sense of duty is noble.
This was important for the Comets to realize after losing two starters in their opening game. Noah Fischer fractured three vertebrae in the first half of the game. The injury pulled him from the game with a broken back. Sophomore lineman Ben Christenson went down with a knee injury on the same play Fischer broke his back. A nearly thirty minute game delay ended with medical staff hoisting Fischer on a stretcher to leave the field and Christenson being helped off the field by teammates. Most Comets were on one knee watching the ordeal. Tears filled the eyes of some, others stared at the ground. The silence at John Luckey Field was broken only by the faint barking of dogs in the distance. The crowd was quiet when the Comets took the field, it is hard to know how to cheer when a player and friend is carted off. Coach Clark hugged Fischer's mom on the sidelines, called to his defensive coordinator, and the Comets took to the line with a sense of duty. Their instruction to carry on in the game was a tough teaching for players who watched a friend leave in pain. But the teaching paid dividends in the game, and will pay more later in life.
Two plays into the game following the injuries Thomas Zwiers blindsided the Rothsay quarterback, causing the ball to waft in the air. Mike Vall lept in a sea of linemen, who didn't see the ball fluttering near them, to intercept the pass. The Comets shifted to offense.
In the pandemonium Clark called a time out. Apologizing to his coaching staff, he turned to his players. The shuffle of injuries hit his heart. Now he worked to right the team with his mind. He started calling off numbers. "You, go four. You're a three." The Comet huddle was filled with players ready to step up, understanding where their friends had been on the field and where their coach needed them to step in now.
The Comet drive was stalled. A series of plays brought the Tigers' offense back to the thirty yard line where they ran a sweep to the Comets' sideline. Strong side line backer Thomas Zwiers broke down in pursuit, stripped the ball from the running back, and darted down the sideline for a seventy-eight yard dash that put the Comets within one touchdown before the half. The Comets huddled to regroup at halftime down 22-14 to a conference favorite in the Rothsay Tigers.
The Comets entered the second half with only six of their nine starters. Coach Clark spoke to the strengths Hillcrest carried into the second half. His demeanor in the halftime huddle gave purpose to the Comets who were outsized by the Rothsay lineman, nearly six inches in height per player.
A third quarter touchdown by Rothsay widened the gap to 16 points. Later in the quarter Rothsay scored again, setting the score at 38-14. Hillcrest answered with a 26 yard run by Thomas Zwiers and a two-point conversion to Logan Disabella. The final score was 38-22.
"First year player Simon Strommen had a great first game for us," Clark commented after the loss. "(he) came away with a couple of tackles for a loss. I thought John Vall made some great open field tackles." Clark turned his focus to the team. "Our guys fought through adversity and gave us opportunities to win right up to the end of the game."
While the outcome isn't disireable, the character displayed by the players, reflecting the training by the coaching staff, is what causes Comet fans to continue to cheer for their squad no matter the odds or outcome. On the field young men learn that life will knock them down, but character and honor are built best in the quiet times of instruction, revealed in how they respond on the field and in life.