|Field goal edges out Durant, 24-23
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · September 30, 2017
There's good news, and there's bad news.
The good news is that West Branch (6-0, 4-0) beat Durant (2-4, 1-3), but just barely. A 42-yard field goal by Beau Cornwell with a minute left put them on top 24-23.
An interception by Evan O’Neil sealed it with 29.9 seconds to go, and the Bears broke or tied four more school records in the process.
The bad news is that lead running back and sophomore Tanner Lukavsky sprained an ankle early in the second half and never returned to the game. Head Coach Butch Pedersen initially said it was feared he may be out for the season, but now it appears Lukavsky could return in a couple of weeks.
Further, the Bears made several costly mistakes, from a bad snap-turned-safety to missed coverages to turnovers.
Pedersen weighed the good and bad, though, and leaned positive.
“As long as you don’t quit,” he told the team in the post-game huddle. “A championship team can play bad games and still win.”
Senior Jacob Barnhart blocked Durant’s last extra-point attempt, holding the Wildcats to a two-point lead at 23-21, giving West Branch a shot at winning the game on a field goal. Fellow special teams blocker and sophomore Cameron Howsare, who stepped in for Lukavsky on defense, almost got a hand on it as well.
“I knew we had to come in and block it — that was what was called — and I was just trying to put as much pressure as I could,” Howsare said.
“That was huge,” Pedersen said of the blocked punt. “That enabled us to drive down the field and win with a field goal, if we could, and we got ourselves into position.”
The Bears coach credited special teams for making that field goal possible. Cornwell faced a lot of pressure with both the distance and the fact that he struck the left upright on a similar distance in the third quarter.
“I would not want anybody else in that position,” Pedersen said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. That kick may have been good from 50 yards. … I couldn’t have been any prouder of him.”
Durant Head Coach Joel Diederichs said “it was too bad somebody had to lose” such a close game.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to West Branch for making that 42-yard field goal,” he said. “It was really a back-and-forth game. (Cornwell) is a good kicker and even though he missed (another 42-yard field goal) earlier, he got just enough of it.”
The Wildcats had their own difficulties, including a bad snap which West Branch recovered.
“But we never gave up,” Diederichs said. “There were so many different (big plays) — it was a good football game.”
Durant last four opponents included three state-ranked teams — Maquoketa Valley, Bellevue and West Branch — and Diederichs felt the Wildcats grew as a team.
“West Branch is a great program … and our 2-3 record coming in came from quality losses,” the coach said. “I’m proud of the way we prepared. I thought we might have the mid-season blahs, but the team practiced with a jovial spirit.”
Pedersen said West Branch was not itself that night, though the Bears threw for 222 yards of its 344 total that night and had the ball for more than twice as long as the home team.
“We stuck together toward the end, we made the big field goal, we got the position, got the big pick and those are the ways to win championships,” he told WestBranchFootball.com.
He compared this game to that of the week before, against Bellevue, where the Bears won 45-41 on a game that came down to the wire.
“Both teams played extremely hard and showed a great deal of sportsmanship,” he said. “Close games like that are indicative of what Iowa high school football is supposed to be about.”
Despite West Branch’s mistakes, Pedersen praised the Wildcats.
“I was impressed with the coaching staff and (players),” he said.
The Bears coach said Durant’s past seasons may not have been as successful, “but this is a totally different Durant team.”
“I told our kids that week before when we were getting ready, but I’m not quite sure everybody listened,” Pedersen said. “Maybe we underrated Durant a little bit.”
He pointed to quarterback Bryce Lafrenz and receiver Mason Compton, who are “a great combination and both only juniors.”
“They’ll be even better next year,” he said.
Howsare said the team did a lot of good, but still struggled that night.
“Toward the end of the game we came out and were pretty fired up,” Howsare said. “We did not want to lose, so we came out, wanting to get that extra yard. I just think, overall, we weren’t prepared coming into this game.”
Howsare said the 6-0 overall record is something West Branch needs to ignore.
“Like Butch always said, it’s one game at a time — 6-0 really doesn’t matter as long as we win the next game and the game after that,” he said.
West Branch dropped two punts and suffered two interceptions, “and sometimes that spells a loss.”
“But it didn’t this time,” the West Branch coach said. “They just refused to give up. … That’s a great life lesson.”
Yet Durant had a bad snap in the beginning of the fourth quarter that proved key for West Branch when junior John Hatfield scrambled in behind the quarterback and picked it up at the Wildcat 24. Two plays later, senior Ben Thompson caught a pass in the end zone and prevented a defender from wrestling it away, putting West Branch back on top, 21-17.
“That was a critical opportunity that we cashed in on,” Pedersen said.
WestBranchFootball.com had to reopen the record books again as Ben Thompson and Beau Cornwell had them penciling in new information, one of which it just updated a week before.
Thompson picked up 176 receiving yards, breaking the school record of 168 by teammate Jacob Graves just a week ago against Bellevue. In that effort, he caught his ninth touchdown pass of the season, tying a school record set in 2005 by Ricky Riley.
Cornwell set new records with his feet setting up for his seventh and eighth field goals of the season, besting the old mark of six set by Josh Griebahn in 2002. Making field goals is another statistic — Griebahn made five in 2002; Cornwell sank his sixth against Durant, with four regular-season games still to go.
Pedersen noted that every personal record is also a team record, since no one can set any record alone.
“That comes from hard work and dedication this season,” he said. “Someone has to throw, someone had to block.”
Still, he said Thompson “richly deserves” the record that Graves held just a week before.
“We’ll see what happens in the next game,” Pedersen said. “It’s a real tribute to Ben and his work ethic as a leader and a captain.”
Cornwell’s field goal record comes from the needs of the game, and Pedersen said “Beau is just beginning to scratch the surface” of what he can be.
“He’s a great quarterback and a great kicker and punter,” the coach said. “We’ve got quite a deal in that package, and that’s pretty important for us.”
Running back Tanner Lukavsky, on his first play of the second half, picked up eight yards before four Wildcats gang-tackled him at the Durant 37. One of the tacklers may have fallen sideways against Lukavksy’s left leg when the group toppled to the turf, spraining Lukavsky’s ankle. He hopped off the field with assistance.
Pedersen said each player reacts differently to therapy, and said he knows parents Josh and Michelle Lukavsky “will do everything imaginable” to get Tanner back on his feet. He is also confident trainer Stephanie Schwartz and team doctor Dr. Brad Heithoff “will work to get that kid back.”
The “next person in” was Howsare on defense and Graves at running back, and the coach said they both did a good job filling in for Lukavsky, contributing to the victory and continuing the Bears’ unbeaten streak.
West Branch’s rushing game dropped with Lukavsky off the field, and Graves picked up some of that workload. He finished the night with 46 rushing yards and 30 receiving yards.
Junior John Hatfield led the defense with seven tackles and one fumble recovery. Dalyn Pederson, Cameron Howsare and Andrew Black all recorded sacks.
One controversial call came in the second quarter when Durant punted on fourth-and-nine from the Bears’ 38-yard line. A West Branch player slid on the grass to get under the ball, so he would have been down immediately upon making the catch. A referee running up to the play inadvertently blew his whistle as the ball bounced off the player’s chest and a Durant player picked it up.
The referees conferred for about a minute and ruled in favor of West Branch that the play was dead when the whistle blew, even if the whistle had been a mistake. The call drew boos from the Wildcat fans. Had the call gone for Durant, the home team would have been only 14 yards from the end zone.
“That punt (call) was a killer for us,” Diederichs said. “But it’s a human mistake.”
West Branch saw the return of their primary kickoff man, Javier Zamudio, who was out for a few weeks with a medical boot after an ankle injury during practice.
Pedersen said one doctor predicted the junior would be out for the season, but Schwartz and another doctor predicted he could return quicker, and the latter two proved correct.
“It’s a really nice pickup for us,” the coach said of Zamudio’s return. “He did not get down and continued to work on his ankle and got to kick again.”
North Cedar next
North Cedar’s first half of the season has been nothing but hardship, entering Friday night with a 0-5 record and averaging less than one touchdown per game.
However, the Knights faced off against another District 3 winless team, Jesup, and one touchdown was all they needed for a 7-0 victory.
No. 6 West Branch will travel to Stanwood for this Week 7 matchup.
Quarterback Ethan Sahr leads the team with 385 yards and two touchdowns. He averages 13.8 yards per completion.
His top two targets include Tyler Alexander with 170 yards and a score, and Mason Minar with 129 yards and a score.
The Knights’ lead rusher is Shane Weber with 227 yards and two touchdowns, followed by Brody Hawtrey with 103 yards and a score.
Pedersen said the Bears “need to get up and play to our ability.”
He said the coaches will spend the week in practice cleaning up mistakes and working on focus.
“I have a ton of faith in these kids that they’ll be even better this Friday,” the Bears coach said. “Our coaches are the same way. They have a lot of pride and each one wants their position guys to to a great job.”
He said practices will get a notch tougher this week.
“I do want to say how proud I am of this football team,” Pedersen said. “At the beginning of the year, we were picked to win three or four games, but we’ve won six and we’re ranked in the Top Ten. They players continue to give a great effort.”
He said the young team “will make mistakes,” but rally back.
“We don’t need people from the bleachers yelling (at the players)” he said.
West Branch 24, Durant 23
West Branch 14 0 0 10 24
Durant 7 2 8 6 23
First downs 17 13
Rush-pass-penalty 10-7-0 2-11-0
Rushing yards 122 28
Passing: Completions-Attempts 17-29 16-38
Passing yards 222 255
Passing: TD-Interceptions 2-2 3-1
Total plays 62 66
Offensive yards 344 283
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-40 6-45
Defensive sacks-yards lost 8-28 1-9
Time of possession 32:07 15:53
3rd down efficiency 5 of 13 8 of 18
4th down efficiency 1 of 2 1 of 2
Punts-average yards 2-41 7-27.71
D: Bryce Lafrenz 30-yard pass to Tristan Hughes; Hector Gonzalez kick; 6:32
WB: Beau Cornwell 29-yard pass to Ben Thompson; Cornwell kick; 4:16
WB: Tanner Lukavsky 5 run; Cornwell kick; 1:29
D: West Branch bad snap rolls out the back of end zone for a safety; 7:13
D: Lafrenz 25-yard pass to Mason Compton; Lafrenz pass to Zac Bedtram; 8:07
WB: Cornwell 32-yard pass to Thompson; Cornwell kick; 4:06
D: Lafrenz 16-yard pass to Marcus Engstler; kick failed; 4:06
WB: Cornwell 42-yard field goal; 48.9 seconds
• • • • •
Passing — 17-228, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing — Beau Cornwell 10-20; Jacob Graves 13-46; Tanner Lukavsky 12-66, 1 TD
Receiving — Ben Thompson 8-176, 2 TDs; Brett Schiele 2-3; Jacob Graves 4-30; Tanner Lukavsky 2-(-2); Peter Espensen 1-15
Tackles (solos-assists-sacks) — Evan O’Neil 1-1-0, 1 INT; Ben Thompson 4-0-0; Dakota Kaalberg 1-0-0; Brett Schiele 2-2-0; Jacob Graves 2-5-0; Tanner Lukavsky 1-0-0; John Hatfield 5-4-0, 1 fumble recovery; Peter Espensen 1-0-0, 1 forced fumble; Cameron Howsare 3-4-1; Dalyn Pederson 3-6-1; Billy Friis 2-1-0; Andrew Black 2-2-1; Jeff Bowie 0-3-0; Jacob Barnhart 1-2-1
Kick returns: Brett Schiele 3-47; Jacob Graves 1-22
Punt returns-Yards: Brett Schiele 1-(-5)
Punting: Beau Cornwell 2-62
Kickoffs: Javier Zamudio 6-281
PATs: Beau Cornwell 3-3
FGs: Beau Cornwell 1-2