Balanced Bears make big in opener
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · August 31, 2017

West Branch clicked Friday, waterlogging the Comets’ offense with turnovers and key sacks while the Bears used a short field and a balanced offense to beat West Liberty 35-20 in the football season opener.

It did not look that way on paper, though, with Class 2A West Liberty pulling in more first downs, more time of possession, completing nearly double the passes, forcing the Bears to punt more often and racking up nearly 150 more yards on offense.

Bears Head Coach Butch Pedersen in the post-game huddle said he was proud that the team did not rack up many serious penalties in the opening game.

“That was a great football game,” he said. “We did things really well tonight, but we haven’t even scratched the surface. You guys know that.”

He praised the home team for beating a team from a larger school, even when at least one sports commentator predicted a Comet victory.

“You know how much fun this is going to be this year? We just beat a team that we had no business beating, according to the experts,” he said as players broke out in cheers.

West Branch moved up to No. 9 in the Des Moines Register’s Class 1A rankings. They appeared at No. 10 in the preseason rankings.

Pedersen said the Bears entered the game with the mindset “that they were not going to be denied,” even with playing up to seven underclassmen.

“We stressed giving perfect effort — that’s our tag now — because if you give perfect effort, whether in football or in life, you’re a winner,” the coach said. “The kids played their hearts out.”

Sophomore lead running back Tanner Lukavsky posted 122 yards on the ground and two touchdowns as he steps into the shoes — and jersey number, 32 — of multiple-record-setting running back Luke Lenoch.

Junior quarterback Beau Cornwell completed 10 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Senior and co-captain Ben Thompson and sophomore Wyatt Goodale both picked off passes in the first half, while junior Brett Schiele and Lukavsky both scooped up fumbles.

Thompson caught two touchdowns and Lukavsky caught a third. Junior John Hatfield, sophomore Dalyn Pederson, and seniors and co-captains Billy Friis and Jacob Barnhart all recorded sacks that night.

And senior co-captain Jacob Graves fired up the special teams with a 42-yard kick return.

“I think they did pretty well,” Graves said of his teammates. “A lot of people doubted us, and all the experts thought we were going to lose, but we came out and performed and we won.”

West Liberty Head Coach Jason Iske said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“It definitely didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Comet Head Coach Jason Iske said. “That’s pretty obvious.”

He said West Branch found ways to make things work at the right time.

“They had big plays when the needed to,” he said. “We stubbed our toe when they needed us to. That’s the story of the ball game, right there.”

Pedersen praised West Liberty’s effort on Friday night.

“West Liberty’s got a great football team,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit. They’ll bounce back and do a good job the rest of the year. I wish them all the luck in the world for a great season.”

West Liberty generated 453 total yards, with 305 on the ground. Comet senior running back Joe Kelley finished the night with 246 total yards and 215 of those on the ground.

“He’s a solid performer all the way around,” the West Liberty coach said. “He came a little banged up and I told him to let me know when he needed a breather and he never let me know when he needed a breather. That’s the way he goes. He has the heart of a champion.”

Graves said Kelley posed the biggest threat on offense.

“(He) was pretty hard -- he’s very shifty and breaks a lot of tackles,” Graves said.

To stop him, West Branch tried gang-tackling and stripping the ball away, he said.

Pedersen said he thought the defense did a good job.

“(Kelley) is a tremendous football player,” the coach said. “You’re not going to stop Joe Kelley, just slow him down enough.”

Lukavsky’s night ended with him earning statistics on both offense in defense as well as participation in many key plays. He carried the bulk of the running game, and Pedersen said he was not surprised.

“He’s a gifted athlete,” the coach said. “There’s room for improvement and he’s a hard-working kid. In his first game, he did a brilliant job.”

Pedersen said before the season he expected a game plan that balanced the run and the pass. Friday, West Branch did just that with 143 rushing yards and 166 passing yards.

“I thought Beau Cornwell played a great football game,” he said of the quarterback throwing to five different targets that night.

Mix in two key running backs — Lukavsky and Graves — and “that caused problems for our opponent.”

“We’re very diversified … and that’s to our advantage,” he said. “And Beau played a very, very good game.”

West Liberty’s 2017 team brought back nearly all of its offense from 2016, so Pedersen said the four turnovers played a big part in this win.

“That’s a huge advantage for us,” he said.

West Liberty also gave up 90 yards in penalties, which Pedersen called another “huge advantage.”

Graves said the turnovers helped a lot.

“I think our defense did pretty well,” Graves said. “We forced a whole bunch of turnovers, but we need to work a little more on tackling. They broke a few tackles for big gains.”

Pedersen said the coaches will spend a lot of time on tackling this week, calling Friday’s execution “very average,” though he felt the effort was good.

He thought the defensive line “did really well” putting pressure on Comet quarterback Seth Feldman with “good stunt packages to keep the offense off-guard.”

West Branch attempted three fourth-down conversions, successfully completing two of them, both on passing plays against a Comet defense that returned 75 percent of their starters.

Pedersen said he wanted to keep pushing West Branch’s momentum based on field position.

“You have to show that you believe in the kids, and (calling that play) is a statement to the kids that we do,” he said. And, when the team succeeds, “that adds confidence.”

Graves said the Bears had the drive.

“We just wanted to score another touchdown and get the W and it worked out,” Graves said.

On special teams, other highlights included junior Javier Zamudio going five for five on extra points and averaging 45 yards on six kickoffs. On one kickoff which the Comets let fall and bounce, Brett Schiele recovered it on the one-yard line.

“I thought (special teams) played extremely well,” Pedersen said. “They gave us a lot of good field position. That’s huge in the game of football.”

The coach said he hopes that continues.

“All three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — have to be working,” he said.

West Burlington-Notre Dame next

West Branch travels on Friday to West Burlington to play West Burlington-Notre Dame, a Class 3A opponent.

The Bears hold a 2-1 record over the Falcons after adding them to their non-district schedule in 2014, when the opponent was still in Class 2A. The Falcons’ school enrollment growth paralleled its ability to score more against the Bears that led to defeating West Branch last year.

Pedersen said West Burlington may be getting too big for Class 1A competition.

“But we’re going to try to improve,” he said. “I hope we have a good week of practice.”

West Branch 35, West Liberty 20


West Liberty 7 7 0 6 20

West Branch 14 7 7 7 35


First downs 17 15

Rush-pass-penalty 10-7-0 6-7-2

Rushing yards 305 143

Passing: Completions-Attempts 18 of 27 10 of 20

Passing yards 148 166

Passing: TD-Interceptions 1/2 3/0

Total plays 58 51

Offensive yards 453 309

Fumbles-lost 4/2 1/0

Penalties-yards 9/90 8/65

Defensive sacks-yards lost 1/1.0 5/23.0

Time of possession 28:07 19:53

3rd down efficiency 6 of 12 2 of 10

4th down efficiency 1 of 4 2 of 3

Punts-average yards 1/26 4/42.5

First quarter

WL: Seth Feldman 37-yard pass to Tanner Iske; Bryce Esmoil kick. 5:06

WB: Beau Cornwell 18-yard pass to Tanner Lukavsky; Javier Zamudio kick. 2:01

WB: Cornwell 10-yard pass to Ben Thompson; Zamudio kick. 1:46.

Second quarter

WL: Feldman 4 run; Esmoil kick. 10:04

WB: Lukavsky 3 run; Zamudio kick. 7:21

Third quarter

WB: Cornwell 11-yard pass to Thompson; Zamudio kick. 9:21

Fourth quarter

WL: Iske 32 run; Kick failed. 8:26

WB: Lukavsky 60 run; Zamudio kick. 7:33

• • • • •

Passing — Beau Cornwell 10 for 166 yards, 3 TDs

Rushing — Beau Cornwell 5 for 3; Brett Schiele 1 for 4; Jacob Graves 2 for 17; Tanner Lukavsky 22 for 122, 2 TDs

Receiving — Ben Thompson 4 for 58, 2 TDs; Brady Lukavsky 1 for 9; Brett Schiele 1 for 3; Jacob Graves 3 for 78; Tanner Lukavsky 1 for 18, 1 TD

Tackles (solos-assists-sacks) — Ben Thompson 3-0-0, 1 INT; Brett Schiele 3-3-0; Wyatt Goodale 2-0-0, 1 INT; Jacob Graves 1-5-0; Tanner Lukavsky 4-2-0; John Hatfield 6-6-0; Levi Kleinmeyer 0-1-0; Peter Espensen 0-2-0; Cameron Howsare 2-3-0; Cameron Howsare 2-3-0; Dalynn Pederson 4-4-1; Billy Friis 4-5-1.5; Andrew Black 4-9-1; Jeff Bowie 2-3-0; Jacob Barnhart 2-5-0.5

Kick returns: Evan O’Neil 1 for 5 yards; Jacob Graves 2 for 69 yards

Punt returns-Yards:

Punting: Beau Cornwell 4 for 170 yards

Kickoffs: Javier Zamudio 6 for 270 yards

PATs: Javier Zamudio 5 for 5

FGs: Beau Cornwell 0 for 1

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