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Going into its game against Empire, Velma-Alma had a chance at second place in the district, which would mean a home playoff game.
Then the wheels fell off.
With only two seniors playing, the Comets (6-5, 4-3) lost their last two games of the season and ended up fourth. It was just enough to make a trip to Minco for the first-round of the Class A state playoffs. In a game that could have been a blowout given the trends of both teams — Minco undefeated in its last 10 games and Velma-Alma scraping its way into the playoffs — the road team gave the favorite all it could handle.
“The way we finished, playing a really good football team the way we did, we kind of ended on a highnote,” coach Greg Gothard said. “I think that all the kids would agree that we were disappointed in our record, but I think we learned a lot. The future looks bright.”
While Gothard is excited about the possibilities having to replace only two players presents, he knows his seniors played large roles in the battle at Minco. As the games were winding down, signaling the end of Alan Beck and Connor Sullivan’s careers, they didn’t hold anything back.
“I was proud of those two boys,” Gothard said. “Down the stretch those two boys played very well... I think the young bucks learned from them.”
Gothard said Sullivan had one of the best games of the year, returning two kick returns for touchdowns last Friday.
“It seemed like every time we got down and the young kids were looking for a guy, Connor picked it up and kept us in it,” Gothard said. “He just made play after play on both sides of the ball.”
Sophomores Jake McGuire and Sarian Smith highlight the group of young players coming back. Gothard pointed out that no one knows where the ceiling is for Smith, who had a long touchdown run in the loss to Minco.
“He’s a great kid with great abilities,” Gothard said. “So we’re just scratching the surface this year.”
Already a leader on the team, McGuire became one of the Comets’ playmakers on defense this year. Gothard said there are a lot of players like Smith and McGuire in the sense that he doesn’t know how high their potential could be. He said he went into the season not knowing much about this group. After seeing a little bit of what they can do, he can’t wait for next season.