|Bears 9-0 heading into 25th playoffs
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · October 22, 2017
Led by four touchdowns by senior Jacob Graves, West Branch took down Clayton Ridge 38-12 on Friday, finishing the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record before heading into the playoffs.
The Bears will start the post-season with a No. 1 seed and host the Pleasantville Trojans, 7-2, 5-2, with a 7 p.m. kickoff at the Little Rose Bowl.
In Guttenberg this past Friday, West Branch collected 370 yards over the home team’s 105, dominating them with the pass and rush, as well as at the line of scrimmage.
West Branch Head Coach Butch Pedersen, in the post-game huddle, congratulated the team for a “good battle,” and canceled weekend practices.
“Give yourself a nice hand,” he told them.
Clayton Ridge Head Coach Chad Harbaugh said the Eagles “played hard” against the No. 5-ranked Bears.
“We weren’t mistake-free, but we gave a great effort,” he said.
Clayton Ridge has suffered a variety of injuries to starting players this past season. And he said West Branch’s defense successfully turned up the quarterback pressure.
“They loaded the box on us and got after our quarterback, and that’s a good way to stop our run, too,” Harbaugh said. “They just made it tough on us.”
He thought the Eagles limited the Bears’ ability to make big plays “a little bit.”
“Our struggle this year is giving up big plays, and (West Branch) had a couple, but for the most part I thought we kept things in front of us. … I was proud of our effort.”
Pedersen said the Bears played “very efficiently,” despite the two-hour charter bus ride paid by “a lot of volunteers.”
“We took care of the football and our defense held them for 105 yards,” he said, noting that 72 yards came after starters left the field.
Bear junior quarterback Beau Cornwell finished the night connecting on 12 passes for 167 yards with 20 yards of rushing and a rushing touchdown.
He called himself “really excited” to see the team unbeaten and heading into the playoffs.
“We worked hard for this,” Cornwell said, noting that some at the beginning of the school year predicting a down season for the Bears. “We just stuck together and really fought through.”
However, he sees the playoffs as a new start.
“We’re zero and zero going into playoff time and we’ve got to treat every game like its our last game,” he said.
Against Clayton Ridge, Cornwell said the Bears started off “pretty well.”
“Our defense did well the whole game holding them to short field position,” he said. “All around, I felt we did fairly decent, but you always can improve.”
Cornwell said playing the Eagles showed West Branch is “mentally ready to go.”
“We’ve been waiting for this since the start of the year and now we need to make a run at the playoffs,” he said.
Pedersen said he will be glad to see a couple injured players return for the playoffs.
“I’m excited to see the run we can make,” he said. “Our players and coaches have great attitudes and we’re extremely happy to see the results.”
On Friday, senior running back Jacob Graves ran 30 times for 174 yards and four touchdowns of 4, 1, 29 and 6 yards. Junior Brett Schiele led receivers with seven catches for 106 yards; and sophomore Dakota Kaalberg caught two passes for 28 yards.
On four of five touchdown drives, West Branch started from less than 50 yards.
The Eagles punted on a three-and-out for their first possession, and junior Brady Lukavsky blocked the punt, and it fell into the hands of Cameron Howsare at the line of scrimmage. Four plays later, Graves ran it in from the Clayton Ridge 4.
Clayton Ridge intercepted the Bears’ next drive, scoring on the end of a 94-yard, eight-play drive that included a punt recovered by Eagle junior Erik Sarazua, one of the main playmakers of the home team. However, West Branch’s Jeff Bowie and Andrew Black stopped the two-point conversion to hold a 7-6 lead.
On its next possession, the Bears sped 73 yards on three plays with a boost from a 55-yard pass to Schiele. Graves ran it in from 24 yards out to score and end the first quarter.
Two possessions later, West Branch started from Clayton Ridge’s 42 after an Eagle fourth-and-21 punt from their eight yard line. Nine plays later, Cornwell skipped in for a seven-yard score to take a 21-6 lead into the break.
In the second half, another punt by the Eagles from its eight-yard line gave the Bears another short field when Graves returned it to the Clayton Ridge 38. Graves finished the drive two plays later with a 29-yard scamper.
On its next possession, the West Branch drive overlapped in the final quarter using 12 plays, including a 15-yard catch by Peter Espensen and a 50-50 throw which Schiele wrestled out of a defender’s arms, to cover 59 yards and reach the Eagle 18. There, Cornwell kicked a 35-yard field goal that edged its way over the crossbar for a 31-6 lead.
The Eagles’ Stephen D. Shannon Athletic Complex sits alongside the Mississippi River, across the border from Wisconsin. Lined with bluffs to the west, the field drew a southern wind Friday that blew into the faces of the Clayton Ridge offense on its next three-and-out. Senior kicker Ben Andregg punted the ball into a high arc, which a gust blew backward and down. The ball then took a West Branch bounce and the Eagles landed on it just nine yards from the line of scrimmage. The game announcer followed the play with this statement: “Andregg’s punt downed by Andregg.”
The Bears took over just 26 yards away and scored three plays later on a six-yard run by Graves. Cornwell kicked his fifth and final extra point for a 38-6 lead and second team took the field to relieve the starters and burn the final eight minutes of play.
Clayton Ridge managed to score once more when Sarazua broke away for a 59-yard run with 2:50 left on the clock. The two-point conversion failed.
Pedersen said the wind also played a factor in West Branch’s game, dragging down Cornwell’s passing yardage, but also resulting in short fields for the Bears when the Eagles punted or kicked off.
The Bears used the wind as an opportunity to test out some running plays and develop its depth.
Pedersen said the offense worked effectively and balanced the run and pass to “finish the task at hand.”
“The seniors did a tremendous job showing leadership,” he said.
John Hatfield led the defense with six tackles, followed by sophomore Cameron Howsare with five and sophomore Tanner Lukavsky with 3.5. Lead running back Lukavsky, who was out for a couple weeks with an injury, has been easing back onto the field on special teams two weeks ago and on defense this past week.
Senior Andrew Black and freshman Jeff Bowie recorded two solo sacks each, and Black and senior Jacob Barnhart each recorded sack assists, for a total of 43 yards of Eagle backpedaling.
Of Clayton Ridge’s 12 drives, eight ended with punts, seven managed seven yards or less and five ended with negative yardage.
“It was nice to see Tanner Lukavsky on defense,” Pedersen said. “We missed his ability. Getting him back is a plus.”
West Branch, ranked No. 4 in the Des Moines Register’s final rankings, is one of only four Class 1A teams to finish the regular season undefeated, the others including No. 5 Pella Christian, No. 1 Van Meter and No. 2. West Lyon. The Cedar Rapids Gazette rankings put West Branch at No. 5 and Pella Christian at No. 4.
This is West Branch’s 25th playoff appearance and 19th district or conference championship, which Pedersen said puts the Bears in a “great situation.”
“We’re hungry for more,” the coach said.
But the playoffs change the game. The brackets released early Saturday morning by the Iowa High School Athletic Association leave only two District 3 teams in the post-season, West Branch and No. 7 Bellevue, 8-1, 6-1.
If both District 3 teams succeed, the two would go head to head again in the University of Northern Iowa Dome in the third round. Bellevue’s path starts against No. 9 (No. 10 on Gazette’s list) Wilton, 8-1, and, if they get through the Beavers, would face either South Winneshiek, 6-3, or perennial powerhouse No. 3 Regina, 7-2.
The Bears start with Pleasantville, 7-2, 5-2, which finished in a three-way tie for second in District 5 behind Pella Christian and got into the post-season based on points.
The Trojans average 35 points per game and give up just under 12 points per game.
Pleasantville finds the most productivity on the ground, with 70 percent of its 3,000 yards this season on rushing plays.
More than half of its 2,101 rushing yards comes from one player, Hunter Tyree, with 1,235 yards on 153 carries, averaging 8.1 yards per touch; he has 14 scores. Second is Cael Lester with 115 attempts and 503 yards and 4.4 yards per carry with eight touchdowns.
West Branch’s 3,494 total yards includes 1,524 on the ground and 1,970 in the air. The Bears lead running back, Tanner Lukavsky, has been easing back onto the field after a leg injury, but he has 126 attempts with 703 yards, about 5.6 yards her carry, and 10 scores. Closing in on him is Jacob Graves, with 560 yards on 106 attempts, or 5.3 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.
Trojan quarterback Owen Worthington completed fewer than half the throws of West Branch’s Cornwell, but his yards-per-catch of 12.6 is really close to Cornwell’s 13, and both have seen five interceptions. However, Worthington is typically not a rushing quarterback, garnering less than a yard per keeper compared to Cornwell’s 4.7 yards.
On the receiving side, Tyree’s name appears at the top again for Pleasantville, with 230 total yards on 16 catches for an average of 14.4 yards per catch. But the Trojans have a half dozen receivers with six or more catches, and three of those — Grant Fouch, Colton Major and Kolbie Jarvis — all have higher yards-per-catch averages than Tyree with 15.6, 20.2 and 16, respectively.
For the Bears, Ben Thompson leads with 658 yards on 39 catches, or 16.9 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns. Graves also exceeds 500 yards receiving with 512 on 38 catches, or 13.5 yards per reception and four scores. Brett Schiele is another air weapon with 34 catches and 341 yards, or 10 yards per catch. Brady Lukavsky’s 17.4 yards per catch and Peter Espensen’s 11.6 round out the double-digit averages on the team, though West Branch also targets Dakota Kaalberg and, if he’s able, Tanner Lukavsky.
West Branch played Pleasantville two or three times in the past, most recently in 1995 in the UNI Dome in a quarterfinal game, Bears Sports Information Director Jason Miller said. But the team runs under a new coach now, so the Bears coaches are preparing using stats and game tapes.
“They’re a power football team with excellent speed,” the Bears coach said. “Their running back (Tyree) and quarterback (Worthington) are elusive, so they will accent that.”
He expects to see a pro-I, twin-I and double tight formations.
“They have a good play-action package and will do some things with the pass,” Pedersen said.
He notes the Trojans lost one game in overtime — against Woodward-Granger, 27-24 — and just missed an 8-1 record.
“Pleasantville is like West Branch — they’re a football town and quite proud of it,” he said. “We anticipate a huge crowd.”
Other players to watch: the multi-purpose Gauge Van Haalen and tight end Kyle Amendt.
West Branch will focus on good field position, reducing penalties and ball security, Pedersen said, with the belief that the team making the “fewest mistakes” will prevail in the post-season.
West Branch 38, Clayton Ridge 12
West Branch 14 7 7 10 38
Clayton Ridge 6 0 0 6 12
First downs 19 8
Rush-pass-penalty 12-6-1 4-2-2
Rushing yards 203 75
Passing: Completions-Attempts 12-22 8-21
Passing yards 167 30
Passing: TD-Interceptions 0-1 0-0
Total plays 59 50
Offensive yards 370 105
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 11-120 6-52
Defensive sacks-yards lost 6-43 1-2
Time of possession 24:45 23:15
3rd down efficiency 7 of 13 1 of 12
4th down efficiency 0 of 0 0 of 1
Punts-average yards 4-37.75 10-32.4
WB: Jacob Graves 4 run; Beau Cornwell kick; 9:56
CR: Erik Sarazua 11 run; 2pt conversion fails; 30 seconds
WB: Graves 1 run; Cornwell kick; 0 seconds
WB: Cornwell 7 run; Cornwell kick; 2:31
WB: Graves 29 run; Cornwell kick; 5:50
WB: Cornwell 35-yard field goal; 11:13
WB: Graves 6 run; Cornwell kick; 8:07
CR: Sarazua 59 run; 2-pt conversion fails; 2:50
• • • • •
Passing — Beau Cornwell 12-167, 1 INT
Rushing — Beau Cornwell 6-22, 1 TD; Dakota Kaalberg 2-16; Jacob Graves 30-170, 4 TD; Morgan Hartz 3-4
Receiving — Ben Thompson 1-7; Brady Lukavsky 1-11; Dakota Kaalberg 2-28; Brett Schiele 7-106; Peter Espensen 1-15
Tackles (solos-assists-sacks) — Evan O’Neil 1-0-0; Ben Thompson 2-1-0; Brady Lukavsky 2-1-0; Dakota Kaalberg 1-3-0; Brett Schiele 1-3-0; Jacob Graves 1-0-0; Jack Robertson 1-0-0, 1 forced fumble; Tanner Lukavsky 2-3-0; John Hatfield 3-6-0; Levi Kleinmeyer 1-1-0; Peter Espensen 1-0-0; Cameron Howsare 4-2-0; Dalyn Pederson 1-0-0; Javier Zamudio 1-0-0; Billy Friis 1-1-0; Andrew Black 3-6-2.5; Jeff Bowie 3-2-2; Marcus Gould 1-0-0; Jacob Barnhart 0-3-0.5
Kick returns: Brett Schiele 2-28; Jeff Bowie 1-0
Punt returns-Yards: Brett Schiele 1-13; Jacob Graves 2-(-2)
Punting: Trey Eagle 1-47; Beau Cornwell 3-104
Kickoffs: Javier Zamudio 7-345
PATs: Beau Cornwell 5-5
FGs: Beau Cornwell 1-1