Maquoketa Valley was supposed to square off against Bellevue for its homecoming game, Sept. 25, but that game was canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the Comets’ program. West Branch was added to the Wildcats’ schedule, and the Bears earned a 50-14.

Senior quarterback Parker Sternhagen started the game for the Wildcats with a big run, but that drive stalled. West Branch took over and didn’t look back as quarterback Gavin Hierseman snuck into the endzone from two yards out with 7:19 remaining in the first quarter.

“We struggled after our first drive of the game because we didn’t come to play with any energy,” coach Trevor Arnold said. “We were flat and didn’t communicate on the field. West Branch liked to blitz, and we knew that going into the game, but we also knew they would run themselves out of some plays in the process.”

A few minutes later, Bears’ running back Andy Henson got a rushing touchdown of his own to push the lead to 14-0. In the second quarter, West Branch extended the lead to 28-0.

“We fully expected West Branch to throw the ball,” Arnold said. “62% of the time, they chose to throw the ball. We had a good game plan set up for it and we forced an early third and long situation. We failed to keep our eyes out of the backfield and allowed a 40 yard gain.”

Senior Owen Mensen got Maquoketa Valley on the scoreboard with a 64-yard touchdown grab with 9:41 to go in the second quarter. A two-point conversion made it 28-8. Hierseman punched two more touchdowns in before the break for West Branch, and they led at the half, 43-8.

Mensen hauled in the lone score of the half for the Wildcats as time expired in the third quarter. This time, Sternhagen and Mensen connected for a 61-yard touchdown. As the clock hit zero, though, West Branch walked away with a 50-14 win.

“At the end of the day,” Arnold said, “you can’t make up for freshman versus senior and sophomore versus senior matchups in the trenches.”

During the Homecoming King and Queen crowning at halftime, the class of 2021 honored two of their classmates who have passed away. Anna Nefzger and Teige Hunt tragically lost their lives in 2016 and 2020, but they were named the Homecoming King and Queen.

“It was a tough night all around,” Arnold said. “Homecoming is more than just football. It is a chance to involve an entire community, families and friends and all the people who care about Maquoketa Valley and the people who reside within our communities. Friday was a night chosen by our students to honor and remember two students who passed away too soon. The emotions and care displayed Friday for the families and all those people involved shows how much everyone in our community cares for one another.”

Sternhagen had 187 total yards and two touchdown passes. Mensen snagged four catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. A.J. Ambundo was the leading rusher for Maquoketa Valley with seven carries for 50 yards.