The penalty flag seemed to become a second opponent for Westchester High School in the Comets’ Western League opener against Hamilton High School Friday, October 13th.

The Comets (2-4, 0-1) struggled on offense throughout the night and the number of penalties called against them didn’t help, as the visiting Hamilton Yankees (5-1, 1-0) took advantage to hand Westchester a 20-7 defeat.

Westchester came into the game off a solid 19-0 victory over Gardena High in the previous week and was looking to get off to a good start in the league season, but Hamilton had other plans.

The Yankees managed to score two of their three touchdowns following Westchester pass-interference penalties, and the Comets also had a 95-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Isiah Barton to senior wide receiver Khallid Muhammad called back due to a holding penalty.

“I think we had a couple of bad calls,” said Barton, who finished six-of-12 passing for 50 yards in the game. “The penalties hurt us bad.

“We were all hyped up but the penalties brought us down and put us in a bad mood.”

Barton acknowledged that his team had a few opportunities to turn things around in the game but they “made mental mistakes.”

In addition to their defensive mistakes, the Comets had trouble executing on offense, as their passing game struggled and senior running back Darren Starks, who led the running attack, was held to just 48 yards rushing on eight carries.

While Westchester fell behind 13-0 at halftime, the Comets looked like they might change things at the start of the third quarter.

In Hamilton’s first drive after halftime, Westchester junior Troy White sacked Yankee senior quarterback Noah Paul, forcing a fumble that the Comets recovered at the Hamilton 40-yard line.

Barton then connected with Starks on a 28-yard pass in the next drive to put the Comets in scoring position for the first time.

Westchester cut the Hamilton lead to 13-7 after a one-yard touchdown run by Barton with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter.

But any momentum that the Comets seemed to find shifted in Hamilton’s ensuing drive, when the Westchester defense picked up two pass-interference penalties.

The second penalty on third down and 16 gave the Yankees an automatic first down at the Westchester 35-yard line.

Two plays later, Paul, who finished ten-of-18 for 149 yards passing, threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior Chad Martinez to put Hamilton ahead 20-7 with 3:28 remaining in the third quarter.

The Comets looked ready to respond in the beginning of the fourth quarter, when a wide-open Muhammad caught a 95-yard pass by Barton and ran into the end zone. But the touchdown was called back because of a holding penalty, which referees spent minutes discussing after they were unsure about who the penalty was called on.

The penalty appeared to spoil Westchester’s drive, as Hamilton grabbed a Barton interception in the next play.

The Comets never threatened to score after that and Hamilton was able to close out for the victory.

The Yankees had found offensive success early against Westchester, gaining 38 yards on a pass by Paul in their first play of the game.

Hamilton finished the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run by junior Dalone Miller to take a 6-0 lead at 4:53 in the first quarter.

A Westchester punt was blocked in the ensuing drive but the Comets were able to save the turnover by recovering the football at their 26-yard line. They were unable to convert the recovery into a score, however, after Barton was sacked for a loss of ten yards.

The Hamilton offense then got some big help off two pass-interference penalties by Westchester during a second-quarter drive, which ended with a five-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jercell Fort that gave the Yankees a 13-0 lead.

Fort led the Hamilton running attack with 91 yards rushing on 17 carries.

Westchester will now face defending league champion Venice High School at home at 7 p.m. Friday, October 20th. Barton said the Comets will need to work on their offensive performance if they are going to be able to take down the challenging Gondoliers.

“We need to improve our offense and we have to work hard in practice,” Barton said.

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