|Big 2Q pushes Bears far past Knights
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · October 07, 2017
The railroad tracks usually run alongside Doug Jackson Field.
On Friday, West Branch’s offense dragged them onto the field itself, railroading its North Cedar hosts with six first-half scores toward a 49-7 final.
The Bears stalled out on their first drive of the game, but then reached the end zone on the next seven possessions, a nearly unstoppable force rolling up 510 yards against the Knights. Three West Branch touchdowns came in a 3 1/2-minute span right before halftime.
On defense, they turned into the immovable object, holding the home team to six first-downs all night and only 168 yards of total offense — all but 90 of those yards on a single 78-yard breakaway touchdown — a mere one-third of what West Branch brought down upon them.
“All right!” Head Coach Butch Pedersen told the team in the post-game huddle. “Good hustle, boys! Good job!”
West Branch improved to 7-0, 5-0 on the season, continuing its control of the lead in the District 3 race. It moved up a notch to No. 5 on the Des Moines Register’s Class 1A rankings.
“And now we set the stage,” Pedersen said. “We set the stage to play Tipton. … And you know, if you win that game next week, what happens? You’re district champions. … Now who would have said that in the beginning of the year? Nobody, except for you guys.”
Tipton improved to 3-4, 2-3 on Friday by beating Durant 15-6. One week ago, West Branch barely beat the Wildcats 24-23.
But West Branch senior lineman Jacob Barnhart said the Bears played “a lot better” against North Cedar than they did against Durant.
“We didn’t come out ready to play last week,” he said. “This week, we wanted to show people we can play to a high standard of football. And I think we just had a lot of frustration built up inside that we got to let out tonight.”
Up by 35 points at halftime, the Bears zipped through the second half under the continuous-clock rule, putting in second-team players for most of the fourth quarter.
However, the Knights, despite their second-to-last district record, almost always manage to score one touchdown, no matter whom they play. In this case, that happened in the second quarter when senior running back Shane Weber broke away for a 78-yard how’d-he-do-that scamper.
“I think our defense played better,” Barnhart said. “Great defenses never let big plays happen … but we did better. We still have a lot to improve. We still need to play with a chip on our shoulder, but we’re working on that.”
Pedersen said West Branch “played hard,” but thought North Cedar did, too, even during a rebuilding year like this one.
“I admire their coach (Adam Hadenfeldt),” the Bears coach said. “He’s a class act, a real gentleman and a super, super person. (His players) didn’t give up.”
The Bears added more sophomores to its starters with five players on the sidelines.
“They all did a good job and we were pleased with that,” Pedersen said.
North Cedar’s offensive line kept West Branch hands off quarterback Ethan Sahr all night, though the defense did get close enough to put pressure on the sophomore Knight, limiting him to 66 yards of passing.
“We wanted to make him hurry his throws and we tried a couple of different coverages this week,” Pedersen said.
He liked what he saw out of the defense overall.
“We kind of got what we wanted out of that ball game,” he said. “We got the opportunity to play a lot of kids. We made a promise to our kids that if they work hard in practice, they would play. And we followed that all the way through. A lot of sports don’t do that. … To get those kids out there and see the smiles on some of their faces is very gratifying.”
West Branch moved senior running back Jacob “Cheese” Graves into its lead running back position, filling in for the injured Tanner Lukavksy. Graves stepped up, collecting 179 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, with another 36 yards on four catches. He averaged nearly eight yards per run and nine yards per catch.
“Cheese-man — he’s a good running back, too,” Barnhart said. “So, we can lean on the pass game if we need to, but our run game is still there.”
Graves, talking to WestBranchFootball.com, credited the line for blocking well and opening holes.
The coach said he was not surprised “a bit” to see Graves pick up so many yards.
“He’s an excellent running back and excellent receiver,” Pedersen said, noting the coaches also moved him from safety to cornerback. “We have the luxury to put him in a variety of different spots. He’s a great football player.”
Junior quarterback Beau Cornwell broke a school record set in 2015 when Cooper Koenig completed 114 passes that season. Cornwell reached the 114 mark late in the second quarter when he tossed a 10-yard pass to Dakota Kaalberg, then passed the record on the next play with a 16-yard throw to Brett Schiele. With Friday’s game, Cornwell stands at 121 completions.
Cornwell called it a “pretty big accomplishment,” but only because he had help.
“I’ve got to give credit to the receivers, and to (Offensive Coordinator John Hierseman) for putting them in a good position,” he said.
The head coach called Cornwell a “phenomenal quarterback.”
“He came back and played a very good game,” Pedersen said, and that a couple of drops prevented his stats from going higher. “He’s probably the best Class 1A quarterback in the state of Iowa.”
As for breaking another school record, that “is a compliment to his work ethic and that of everybody surrounding him.”
With good pass protection and good receivers “who run routes in an efficient manner,” the passing performance of the Bears “grows every week.”
Pedersen said Cornwell could play college football.
He also credited Hierseman for “developing into a very good offensive coordinator and masterminding our offense.”
Hierseman complements the efforts of linebackers coach Tyler Bailey, “who is basically running defense this year,” and Special Team Coach Kevin Crosthwaite, “who also continues to grow this year.”
“We’re very blessed to have a bunch of assistants and a coordinator and position coaches who are unbelievable, and very technique-oriented to put kids in position to make plays,” Pedersen said.
The Bears ran a fairly balanced offense, rushing for 231 yards and passing for 279. However, when it came to scoring, most of that came on the ground, with six touchdowns on the run and only one in the air. Cornwell ran for three from 36, 2 and 1 yards; Graves had two from 36 and 25 yards; and Levi Kleinmeyer joined the scoring ranks by punching one six-pointer in from four yards out. Senior Ben Thompson caught the sole passing touchdown on a 10-yard play.
Pedersen said the high yardage comes from the more diversified offense and “everybody’s a little more focused” than the Durant game.
“Last week, not to take anything from Durant, we lacked focus,” he said. “In order to win, we have to show up and finish assignments, to give that ‘perfect effort’ we’ve been talking about.”
One thing the Knights had going for it was special teams, kicking the ball deep and tackling the returner fairly quickly. For six of the Bears’ seven scoring drives, West Branch had to cover an average of more than 73 yards to reach the end zone. The seventh scoring drive started with a fumble recovery from 18 yards out.
John Hatfield led the defense with eight tackles, followed by Cameron Howsare with six and Dylan Pederson with five. Brett Schiele recorded the team’s only interception.
Graves told WestBranchFootball.com that practice this past week included catching punts since the Bears had trouble with that the week before. To make it tougher, the balls were dunked in water beforehand. It just so happened that Friday’s game in Stanwood fell between rainfalls, giving the contest wet playing conditions.
“They soaked them in water and it was pretty hard to catch them because they were all wet,” Graves said of catching kicked balls in practice. “And it got us ready for today.”
The Bears football media arm, WestBranchFootball.com, tweeted on Monday statistics, confirmed by QuikStatsIowa.com, that show West Branch individuals among the best of their Class 1A peers:
• After seven games, receiver Ben Thompson leads Class 1A with 601 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is second with total receptions at 36.
• After seven games, quarterback Beau Cornwell is leads Class 1A with 1,627 passing yards. He is tied for second for touchdown passes with 16.
• Jacob Graves has 461 receiving yards, putting him at No. 6 in Class 1A. If he catches for another 39 yards, he will pass 500, and, with Thompson, become the first receiving duo to reach that milestone in West Branch history. Also, with 32 catches, he is No. 4 in Class 1A.
Tipton’s Tigers 3-4, 2-3, will enter Friday’s contest coming off a home-field win over visiting Cedar County opponents the Durant Wildcats.
While West Branch defeated Durant on an edge-of-your-seat late field goal for a one-point victory, 23-22, Tipton held Durant to just a single score and no extra point, scoring 15 points of its own.
The Tigers emphasize the rush, with eight players moving the ball on the ground. The top runner is Quinten Mesick, followed by Logan Stolte, and Jared Hightowner, not to mention quarterback Ben Emrich, all of whom have familiarized themselves with the end zone.
Tipton targets four receivers, with Frank Bierman leading and John Crowley second with catches.
The defense allows an average of 19.2 points per game while the offense averages 14.1 points per game.
Pedersen said Tipton’s win over Durant could have been worse if not for a fumble just shy of the end zone.
“They are a very good football team,” he said. “It will be a real challenge.”
He said the Tigers rely on their “great speed” and “a lot of misdirection.”
“We will need to be assignment-football strong,” the Bears coach said. “To beat them will be a big task.”
West Branch will unveil some new “surprises” on both offense and defense, he said, when the Tigers visit West Branch on senior night.
Barnhart said he also looks forward to playing Tipton.
“That’s when the real games start coming,” as the Bears prepare for the post-season, he said.
Pedersen said he hopes for a big crowd on senior night.
“I hope everybody will come out and help,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far, but the seniors have shown us tremendous leadership this year. We will try to get a victory to pay them back for all their hard work.”
West Branch 49, North Cedar 7
West Branch 14 28 7 0 49
North Cedar 0 7 0 0 7
First downs 27 6
Rush-pass-penalty 11-16-0 3-3-0
Rushing yards 231 102
Passing: Completions-Attempts 21-28 5-14
Passing yards 279 66
Passing: TD-Interceptions 1-0 0-1
Total plays 66 34
Offensive yards 510 168
Fumbles-lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 2-20 2-10
Defensive sacks-yards lost 0-0 0-0
Time of possession 31:24 16:36
3rd down efficiency 5 of 9 2 of 9
4th down efficiency 2 of 2 0 of 1
Punts-average yards 2-33 5-28.6
WB: Jacob Graves 38 run; Beau Cornwell kick; 4:56
WB: Cornwell 36-run; Cornwell kick; 1:45
WB: Graves 25 run; Cornwell kick; 8:23
NC: Shane Weber 78 run; Brody Hawtrey kick; 8:05
WB: Cornwell 10 pass to Ben Thompson; Cornwell kick; 3:41
WB: Cornwell 2 run; Cornwell kick; 2:41
WB: Cornwell 1 run; Cornwell kick; 7.7 seconds
WB: Levi Kleinmeyer 4 run; Cornwell kick 1:23
• • • • •
Passing — Beau Cornwell 21-279, 1 TD
Rushing — Beau Cornwell 5-35, 3 TD; Kelby Burger 2-4; Jacob Graves 23-179, 2 TD; Morgan Hartz 6-12; Levi Kleinmeyer 3-11, 1 TD
Receiving — Ben Thompson 10-111, 1 TD; Brady Lukavsky 1-12; Dakota Kaalberg 3-28; Brett Schiele 5-75; Jacob Graves 4-36; Peter Espensen 1-17
Tackles (solos-assists-sacks) — Evan O’Neil 1-1-0; Ben Thompson 1-1-0; Dakota Kaalberg 1-2-0; Jacob Graves 1-2-0; John Hatfield 4-4-0; Cameron Howsare 4-2-0; Brett Schiele 0-0-0, 1 INT; Dalyn Pederson 4-1-0; Billy Friis 2-0-0; Andrew Black 2-0-0; Jeff Bowie 2-1-0; Jacob Barnhart 1-1-0; Matt Paulsen 0-1-0
Kick returns: Brady Lukavsky 1-15; Jacob Graves 1-13
Punt returns-Yards: Dakota Kaalberg 1-0; Brett Schiele 1-0
Punting: Beau Cornwell 1-34; Peter Espensen 1-32
Kickoffs: Beau Cornwell 1-37; Javier Zamudio 7-326
PATs: Beau Cornwell 7-7