WATERLOO — As of Wednesday, DaQuavion Walker had not fielded a punt in a single Waterloo West football practice this August.
Thursday, Wahawk coaches threw him out there during special teams practice.
Then, on Friday, Walker’s 61-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the decisive score in West’s 26-19 victory over rival Waterloo East in front of an estimated 5,000-plus fans at Memorial Stadium.
It was the Wahawks’ seventh consecutive win in the 107-year history of the series.
“We had to keep pushing and never give up,” Walker said of the key to victory.
“I knew it was going to be a four-quarter battle,” West coach Lonnie Moore said. “DaQuavion did a great job there, and honestly, we just put him on punt return yesterday. We were kind of nervous about it, because we hadn’t seen him catch a lot of punts.”
In one of the best games between the two teams in nearly a decade, East took control early and led 7-0 after a quarter. West rallied to lead at halftime 14-7.
That lead was 20-7 at the start of the fourth quarter when momentum swept back onto the Trojans’ side of the field.
Behind the crisp passing of Dylan Reyes and the hard running of Kjuan Owens and Alex Glover, East made it interesting. First, Trevion Labeaux hauled in a 27-yard pass from Reyes to get the Trojans within 20-13.
After the teams traded possessions, Ahkil Muhammad swept left, cut back to the middle and outraced several Wahawk defenders for a 34-yard touchdown with 7:49 left in the game.
Having already missed an extra point, Trojans coach Xavier Leonard gambled and went for the lead, but Owens’ run was stopped short and West held onto a 20-19 advantage.
“I was playing to win. Would do it again, the momentum was on our side, everything was going our way,” Leonard said. “I was proud of the way our guys fought back.”
The teams traded three-and-outs after the Muhammad touchdown and parts of what happened next will be disputed. As East defenders converged on Walker, it appeared the West junior may have raised his left hand to call a fair catch before quickly pulling it down, fielding the punt and winding through several Trojan defenders to score.
“I thought there was an issue with that punt,” Leonard said. “The young man for West put his hand up for a fair catch, and my young man slowed down and stopped.”
Walker said the return was supposed to go right.
“I saw an opening on the left and took it,” Walker smiled.
“I’ve just been trying different positions, and yesterday tried punt return,” added Walker.
East outgained West, 356-321, showing a balanced attack with 180 rushing yards and 176 passing. Owens led the Trojans with 79 yards on 12 carries, and Glover had 74 on 18.
“Not to take anything away, any credit from East, but we took our foot off the pedal,” Moore said. “We were unorganized. That is my fault. That was probably the worst we’ve been organized in a long time and I’ve got to change that.
“I thought East played hard, did a great job, but I do believe we took our foot off the pedal.”
An improved East scored on its opening possession, dicing its way through the West defense like butter. Owens capped a quick, four-play, 52-yard scoring drive with a 34-yard touchdown run just 3 minutes, 40 seconds into the game.
West got going in the second quarter on the back of Isaac Tolbert, who had 112 of his 129 rushing yards in the first half before missing much of the fourth quarter with leg cramps.
Tolbert got the Wahawks on the board with a six-yard touchdown run. West’s go-ahead touchdown came after it reached into its bag of trickery with a double pass. Quarterback Carter Maske hit Carter Schulte behind the line of scrimmage. Schulte in turn fired deep to a wide open Tay Norman for a 58-yard gain to the East 1.
Nathaniel Ewell punched it over on the next play and added a two-point run to make it 14-7 with 3:03 to half.
West extended its lead to 20-7 on a Jeron Shaw eight-yard touchdown run with 8:30 to go in the third quarter.
West 26, East 19
Wat. East 7 0 0 12 — 19
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Wat. West 0 14 6 6 — 26
East — Kjuan Owens 32 run (Dylan Albright kick)
West — Isaac Tolbert 6 run (kick blocked)
West — Nathaniel Ewell 1 run (Ewell run)
West — Jeron Shaw 8 run (kick blocked)
East — Trevion Labeaux 27 pass from Dylan Reyes (kick failed)
East — Ahkil Muhammad 34 run (run failed)
West — DaQuavion Walker 61 punt return (pass failed)
First downs 18 14
Rushes-yards 41-180 33-216
Passing yards 176 105
Comp-att-int 17-30-0 7-17-0
Return yards 0 61
Punts-avg. 4-34.4 5-31.8
Fumbles-lost 2-0 0-0
Penalties 5-25 10-90
EAST — Owens 12-79, Andrew Glover 18-74, Reyes 7-2, Aidan Ernst 1-3, Muhammad 1-34, Team 2-minus 12.
WEST — Tolbert 17-129, Carter Maske 4-35, Ewell 3-6, Shaw 9-46.
EAST — Reyes 17-28-0, 184 yards.
WEST — Maske 6-16-0, 47 yards, Carter Schulte 1-1-0, 58 yards.
EAST — Ramir Scott 5-34, Glover 2-18, Owens 3-25, Labeaux 4-51, Muhammad 1-3, Tyrell Newman 3-32.
WEST — Mondre Lagow 3-16, Walker 2-27, Tay Norman 1-58, Mason Tomlinson 1-1.