By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Luke Lenoch has had better statistical games in his career than what he had last Friday.
The West Branch senior running back has had games with more yards, more touchdowns and a better yard per carry average than he posted in a 35-14 win over North Cedar a week ago.
Lenoch may have never meant more to his team than he did last week.
When the Bears needed him most, Lenoch produced the most, scoring three of his four touchdowns in the second half as West Branch broke a 14-14 tie with 21 unanswered points to keep its playoff destiny in its own hands.
“It’s not about the yards to him, he just wants to go out there and win,” West Branch junior offensive lineman Jacob Barnhart said. “The second half he knew what he had to do to get it done. He was playing hurt and he went out there and he was a leader.”
Lenoch finished with 226 yards and four touchdowns on a career-high 42 carries as West Branch (5-2) improved to 4-1 in Class 1A, District 3 play.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Lenoch had touchdowns runs of 13, 2 and 6 yards in the second half as West Branch scored on three consecutive possessions after halftime.
“We were in a position that we knew we didn’t really want to be in, a tie football game with a team that doesn’t have anything to lose,” Lenoch said. “We went into the second half knowing that it was 0-0 and we played the ball game that we knew we could play and executed a lot better.”
With nearly 5,500 career yards and 79 touchdowns it is no surprise West Branch turned to Lenoch late in a tight game with its playoff fate possibly on the line.
It’s even less surprising he produced.
Lenoch has rushed for at least 200 yards in three of the Bears’ last five games and now has seven 200-yard games in his career.
“We are relying on him a lot,” West Branch senior lineman Cole Tisinger said. “With how good of an athlete he is you lean on him. We have to rely on him a little more and he always comes through.”
Lenoch has been producing for the Bears for three seasons.
Already the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, Lenoch has rushed for at least 100 yards 28 times in 30 games the past three seasons and has scored a touchdown in 27 games during that stretch.
Season-ending injuries to its top two quarterbacks this season has caused West Branch to ask even more of Lenoch this season.
“It’s been tough, especially with the injuries and that’s no excuse but we have had some adversity,” Lenoch said. “We still haven’t played the football that we know we can play and we are hoping to get there and I know that we will.”
With two games remaining in the regular season Lenoch is 28 carries away from his career high.
He has three games with more than 30 carries for the first time in a season and has twice logged 40 carries in a game this season.
“He has so much durability that he never really gets tired,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said of Lenoch. “Then when the opponents get a little tired he is still running fresh so I think he gets better as the game goes on.”
The heavy work load hasn’t slowed Lenoch.
He ranks eighth in the state with 1,307 yards this season and is tied for fifth with 22 touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Lenoch has been at his best in district play.
Since rushing for a season-low 78 yards in a wee- two loss to West Burlington/Notre Dame, Lenoch is averaging 32 carries for 210 yards and four touchdowns in five district games.
“I would say after West Burlington it was more of just a gut check,” Lenoch said. “We knew that we needed to be more physical and just overall we knew we had to get a lot better and I think we have played a lot better.”