West Branch senior Luke LenochBy Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH –Offense was the name of the game for West Branch Friday.
The Bears racked up 29 first downs and accumulated 500 yards of offense en route to a 54-32 1A District 3 victory over Maquoketa Valley.
The Bears needed every last yard and point to hold on because their defense could not control the Wildcats’ playmakers in a three-hour marathon.
While the Bears (3-1, 2-0) could not fully put away the Wildcats (3-1, 1-1) until the final minutes of the game the key to the victory came in the first half.
With the game tied at 7, the Bears drove from their own 35 to the Wildcat 9. Quarterback Brandon Rummelhart lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone, and junior Ben Thompson outfought his defender for the touchdown.
“We call that our inside corner,” Rummelhart said. “He went up and got it. It was a great catch on his part.”
Then the defense came up with two stops, one on an interception by Jacob Graves and another after forcing the Wildcats, who started the drive at the Bears’ 35, to take a 27-yard field goal that failed.
West Branch drove 80 yards, capped by a Luke Lenoch 11-yard TD run, and took a 21-7 lead. The defense forced a punt, and the Bears took over on their own 23 with only one minute left in the half.
Rummelhart, who wasn’t even the starting quarterback at the start of the season, masterfully directed the last-minute drive down the field, overcoming a holding penalty along the way.
“We had confidence in our offense,” Rummelhart said. “Give all the credit to the receivers. They caught all the balls.”
He connected with Cooper Kabela four times and Thompson once to reach the Maquoketa Valley 19-yard line with 9 seconds left. After an incompletion the Bears had 3.6 seconds to try to put it in the end zone. Rummelhart targeted Kabela.
“It was just a straight fade to the end zone,” Kabela said. “I made sure I got my feet down. We work on getting our feet inbounds every pregame.”
Rummelhart tossed the ball up and Kabela caught it, juggled it, and fell cradling the ball with his feet just inside the end line. The lead was 28-7 at half.
“I was wondering if (the referee) was going to say I had enough hold of the ball, but he saw I did,” Kabela said.
“That was huge because it got them in a little bit of a hole, and it gave us more cushion,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said of the extra score to end the half. “Obviously we needed that cushion.”
Taking a three touchdown lead into halftime gave the Bears just enough breathing room to survive.
Neither team punted in the second half, and 51 points were scored. Maquoketa Valley cut the lead to 41-32 with 4:56 left in the game, but a two-point conversion pass was incomplete, all but ending the Wildcats’ chances.
The Bears managed to score two more touchdowns in the final five minutes with Thompson’s interception setting up the final score.
Lenoch, already the school’s career rushing leader, set a single-game record with six touchdowns and rushed for 258 yards.
Every time Maquoketa Valley inched close enough to cause concern, the offense answered.
“They weren’t going to stop our offense,” Pedersen said. “Tonight the offense won this game. The defense didn’t win this game.”
“Our offensive line played outstanding,” Lenoch said. “They picked up blocks all night long. I could hear them talking on the line. Our fullback, Cale Donovan did a great job. It was real easy for me to get however many touchdowns and yards because they were doing 90 percent of the work. I just had to read where I was going.”
Rummelhart passed for 162 yards with Kabela and Thompson doing most of the work.
Maquoketa Valley was hurt by two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first half that contributed to two West Branch touchdown drives. In all the Wildcats were penalized 100 yards.
The Bears had trouble with penalties as well, but it was their poor tackling and coverage in the secondary that led to a host of big plays for Maquoketa Valley. The Wildcats had nine plays of more than 16 yards and accumulated 420 yards of offense.
“The defense was unbelievably bad,” Pedersen said. “We’re going to find some hitters this week.”
Maquoketa Valley 7 0 13 12 – 32
West Branch 13 15 6 20 – 54
WB – Luke Lenoch 3 run (Javier Zamudio kick)
MV – Zak Harbach 73 pass from Tyson Tucker (Tanner Parmely kick)
WB – Ben Thompson 9 pass from Brandon Rummelhart (kick failed)
WB – Lenoch 11 run (Kabela pass from Rummelhart)
WB – Cooper Kabela 19 pass from Rummelhart (Zamudio kick)
MV – Tyson Tucker 2 run (Parmely kick)
WB – Lenoch 1 run (kick failed)
MV – Harbach 63 run (kick failed)
WB – Lenoch 6 run (Zamudio kick)
MV – Harbach 54 pass from Tucker (kick failed)
MV – Brock Hillers 32 pass from Tucker (pass failed)
WB – Lenoch 17 run (kick failed)
WB – Lenoch 2 run (Zamudio kick)
Maq Valley West Branch
First downs 13 29
Rushing-yards 26-129 51-338
Comp-Att-Int 10-23-2 14-19-0
Passing-yards 291 162
Punts-avg. 2-32 1-32
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 9-100 9-76.5
Rushing – Maquoketa Valley: Zak Harbach 5-83, Tyson Tucker 12-25, Alec McDowell 6-19, Garrett Hogan 1-3, Norman Wilson 1-(-1), team 1-0; West Branch: Luke Lenoch 37-258, Cale Donovan 11-92, Garrett Tucker 1-1, Brandon Rummelhart 2-(-13).
Passing – Maquoketa Valley: Tyson Tucker 10-23-0-291; West Branch: Brandon Rummelhart 14-19-0-162.
Receiving – Maquoketa Valley: Zak Harbach 3-161, Garrett Hogan 4-87, Brock Hillers 2-36, Alec McDowell 1-7; West Branch: Cooper Kabela 6-87, Ben Thompson 5-72, Jacob Graves 2-5, Cale Donovan 1-(-2).