BY AARON PATTERSON
---- — FITHIAN — The calendar read Friday the 13th, but for the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac Comets, it might have felt more like Nightmare on Route 150. Or, perhaps it was just a horrible reoccurring dream.
The Comets had yet to win a game entering Friday’s contest against the winless Arcola Purple Riders, and they had plenty of opportunities to pick up their first win. In fact, OAP’s offense played most of night on Arcola’s side of the field. But the Comets simply couldn’t finish and suffered a 21-13 loss, falling to 0-3 for the first time since 2002.
“It’s really embarrassing because our coaches, they really set us up for success,” Oakwood junior quarterback Parker Lee said. “It’s just really penalties that kill us. We get so close. We get in the red zone so often, it’s unbelievable. We can drive so well and we can put plays together, but when we come down to the last few plays, it’s, I don’t know. We roll over, I guess.”
The Comets took 38 of their 70 plays from Arcola’s side of the field, and had five of their 10 drives end without points inside the Purple Riders’ 30 yard line.
Even though missed opportunities hurt OAP early in the contest, they still had a chance on their final drive of the game. Arcola had just taken a 21-13 lead on a 79-yard completion from quarterback Clayton Strader to Nick Hudson. OAP responded with a big play of its own as Alex Anderson returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Arcola 21-yard line.
A Purple Riders penalty on the return gave the Comets an additional 10 yards, but with a holding penalty, they managed only one net yard on the series. They turned the ball over on downs with two minutes, 20 seconds left in the game with a pass attempt into the end zone was knocked out of the reach of two OAP receivers.
It was a continuation of the Comets’ misfortune from the first half.
“We just need to finish,” OAP coach Jeremy Dirksmeyer said. “That’s the biggest thing. In that first half, we had a great drive there and had two costly penalties inside the 15 that killed that drive. We’ve just got to finish. It comes down to that. You’ve got to put it together and finish, and those penalties killed us there in the first half.
“I felt in the second half, we had a lot of momentum. Offensively, we did alright. We pulled together. Defense was outstanding; it got us a couple of turnovers. Again, we moved the ball and had great special teams, and just could not punch it in when it came down to it.”
OAP sophomore defensive back Austin McCarty stripped the ball out of the hands of Arcola’s Wyatt Fishel and recovered the fumble at the end of a 38-yard completion with 2:33 to go in the third quarter. At the time, the Comets trailed 14-7, but they failed to convert on the turnover.
Zach Horatschki scored both of OAP’s touchdowns and had 23 carries for 57 yards. Andrew Curley had nine carries for 105 yards, and caught four passes for 61 yards.
Despite the bad luck and 0-3 start, Dirksmeyer and the Comets are confident they are trending in the right direction.
In their previous game against Arthur-Lovington, the Comets dominated the time of possession, had 22 first downs, and rushed the ball for over 200 yards, yet they still lost 40-7.
“I think we’re just coming together as a team a little bit more emotionally,” Dirskmeyer said. “Our character is starting to show. We’ve got a tough schedule, and that’s a pretty decent football team. They have lost to two very good teams in Salt Fork and Bismarck. Our competition is pretty tough this year. I’m OK with that, but our kids have to understand that they’re playing right with these teams.
“I think our confidence is fine. It’s tough going down 0-3, but we’ve got to keep fighting week-by-week.”
OAP will be at home again next Friday hosting Hoopeston Area with hopes of getting that elusive first win.
“I’m very confident in my team,” Lee said. “We just seem to be getting better and better every week. Having Andrew Curley come in and play running back for us, he’s a big help. He’s a playmaker and he plays hard. I really like seeing him there. Hopefully he stays there. I think we’re going to be alright.”