Minutes after Davenport West’s football team broke its postgame huddle Thursday night, Jacob Milem sat on the team’s sideline with his helmet still strapped on. The senior was in disbelief.
For four quarters, Milem and the Falcons poured every ounce of effort they had into this one. They went jab for jab with Muscatine and were on the cusp of a breakthrough victory.
It just couldn’t get over the threshold.
Muscatine came up with a defensive stop on fourth and inches inside its own 20-yard line in the final four minutes to escape with a 14-13 win over West at Brady Street Stadium.
“It just sucks we came up a point short,” Milem said. “This shows everyone who came to this game we can compete with anybody, but the little things messed us up.”
West (1-2) had a high punt snap Adam Gibson couldn’t corral that went out of the end zone for a safety. Then on its fourth-quarter touchdown, West had a low snap on its potential game-tying extra point try that led to a failed conversion.
“A missed tackle here, a missed block and a couple bad snaps literally cost us this game,” West coach Justin Peters said. “Losing always hurts, but when you give the effort our boys did today, you’ve got to be proud of them.”
The Falcons were stymied by Clinton last Friday, 34-9, and lost quarterback Zach Trevino to injury. Milem, who had been the team’s quarterback the past two years, stepped in under center and rushed for 121 yards on 30 attempts and a touchdown. He also passed for 157 yards and a score.
“Milem showed why he’s a leader of this team,” Peters said. “He stepped up in a fantastic way. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Senior receiver Malik Westerfield had four receptions for 117 yards and a score.
Muscatine coach Jake Mueller admitted the West team he had seen on film didn’t replicate what he witnessed on the field.
West limited Muscatine to just 87 rushing yards on 34 attempts.
“They played hard, they played tough,” Mueller said. “I thought for most of the game, they played tougher and harder than we did. Hats off to them because they’re a completely different team than what I saw on film.”
But when the Muskies (3-0) needed a stop late, they delivered.
After West marched 68 yards to the Muscatine 18 with 3:50 remaining, it faced fourth and inches. Peters elected to go for it, but Muskie senior Dalton Sell stopped Milem short of the first down.
“As soon as we stacked him up, we just kept running our feet until he was down,” Sell said.
Peters felt his team needed to get a few yards closer before it gave Gibson a chance at a field goal.
“In a non-district game down one, our kids wanted that fourth and inches,” Peters said. “They just had a couple guys break through the line at the last moment and stopped us short.
“It was a hard-fought battle.”
Muscatine converted two first downs, one aided by a 15-yard face mask penalty from West, to run out the clock.
The Muskies tallied one touchdown, kicked two field goals and recorded a safety.
Sophomore receiver Eli Gaye continued his impressive start to the season. He had 13 receptions for 172 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown reception in the opening quarter. Gaye has 33 catches in the first three contests.
Muscatine survived despite four fumbles and a season-low 97 rushing yards from Tim Nimely.
“I told our kids in the locker room we’re going to be good, but we’re not a good team right now,” Mueller said. “I expect us to be, but we’re not there yet. We’ve got to get good in a hurry.”
The Muskies have third-ranked Johnston coming to town next week in their non-district finale.
West, meanwhile, prepares for a city showdown with Davenport North next Friday.
“I’m proud of everybody and how we balled out tonight,” Milem said. “We can’t take back what happened, so we need to fix the little things we did wrong, move forward and focus on North.”