By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – After a regular season filled with injuries and unlucky bounces Butch Pedersen figured his team was due for a break.
West Branch finally got one on Friday.
Despite falling to Clayton Ridge 33-27 in overtime on Friday in the regular season finale at the Little Rose Bowl the Bears are playoff bound after securing one of two at-large spots in Class 1A.
West Branch (6-3) will learn its playoff opponent on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. when the Iowa High School Athletic Association announce the postseason pairings.
“If we ever needed a break now is the time we should get one,” Pedersen said. “We haven’t gotten one all year.”
Friday’s regular season finale was everything you could want in a game that would determine a playoff berth.
For West Branch it was almost everything you could want.
Clayton Ridge twice scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter tie the score and won the game when Jace Moore connected with Sawyer Schmelzer for an 11-yard touchdown in overtime.
West Branch senior Luke Lenoch
Moore threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns as Clayton Ridge (7-2) secured the runner-up spot in District 3.
“Credit to them they came out and played a heck of a game and we played a heck of a game right back at them,” West Branch senior Cooper Kabela said. “It was truly a four-quarter game and they got the upper hand tonight and you have to credit them.”
Luke Lenoch rushed for 223 yards and four touchdowns but was injured on his 34th carry of the night to open overtime.
The senior all-state senior didn’t return and West Branch eventually turned it over on downs on its only possession in overtime when Kabela was stopped shy of the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the four.
Three plays later Moore rolled out to his right and fired a strike to Schmelzer in the back of the end zone for the game winner.
“It was tough losing Luke, we were planning on running our jumbo formation and we had to adjust,” West Branch senior Cole Tisinger said. “We have backs behind him that run hard but Luke has good vision and it was hard to adjust to that.”
It looked like a shootout early on as the first three possessions of the game resulted in touchdowns.
West Branch pulled even at 14-14 right before the half when Lenoch took a direct snap and raced 11-yards for a touchdown with 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
“He’s was hurt all week, he came in hurt and played hurt and it never ceases to amaze me what that kid can do,” Pedersen said of Lenoch. “He’s a phenomenal athlete.”
West Branch opened the second half with a 16-play, 70-yard drive that took more than seven minutes and ended with an 8-yard TD run by Lenoch that made it 21-14.
The Bears had a chance to add to its lead when Ben Thompson picked off a Moore pass to give West Branch a first down at the Eagle 15 yard line but the Clayton Ridge defense held.
“There are a lot of turning points in a game like that and I can’t really say one was any more important than another one,” Pedersen said. “I just know one thing we battled hard. There were two good football teams on the field tonight and we were one of them.”
Clayton Ridge tied the game on a 64-yard touchdown pass to Robby Sweers but again Lenoch answered.
He scored on a 41-yard touchdown run down the sideline to put West Branch on top 27-21 with 5:54 left.
Clayton Ridge forced overtime with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Moore hitting Sweers for a 5-yard score with 1:09 left.
“It’s the game you think of in your head all year and you know that it’s going to come down to the end,” Lenoch said. “Both of it made plays but when it came down to it they toughened up and they did what they had to do to get the W.”
West Branch had a second-and-goal from the 1 in overtime but had a fumbled snap and a sack on back-to-back plays to set up fourth down at the 16.
A pair of pass interference calls on consecutive plays made it fourth-and-goal from the four but Kabela was wrapped up shy of the goal line on a keeper.
“It’s unfortunate to lose the last game here as seniors but they are a good football team and hopefully this isn’t our last game,” Lenoch said. “We gave it everything we had tonight and that’s all you can ask for and we are hoping to live another week.”
West Branch Clayton Ridge
First downs 20 15
Rushes-yards 54-267 23-81
Passing yards 53 267
Total yards 320 348
Comp-att-int 6-13-0 16-31-1
Fumbles-lost 3-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-56 10-65
West Branch 7 7 7 6 0 – 27
Clayton Ridge 14 0 0 13 6 – 33
CR – Eric Ihde 3 run (Sawyer Schmelzer kick)
WB – Luke Lenoch 18 run (Javier Zamudio kick)
CR – Schmelzer 42 pass from Jace Moore (Schmelzer kick)
WB – Lenoch 11 run (Zamudio kick)
WB – Lenoch 8 run (Zamudio kick)
CR – Robby Sweers 64 pass from Moore (Schmelzer kick)
WB – Lenoch 41 run (Kick failed)
CR – Sweers 5 pass from Moore (Kick failed)
CR – Schmelzer 11 pass from Moore
Rushing – WB: Luke Lenoch 34-223, Cooper Kabela 20-40, Garrett Tucker 1-4. CR: Eric Ihde 13-42, Jace Moore 10-39.
Passing – WB: Cooper Kabela 6-13-0 53. CR: Jace Moore 16-31-1 267.
Receiving – WB: Jacob Graves 2-21, Ben Thompson 2-14, Tanner Lukavsky 1-16, Cale Donovan 1-2. CR: Sawyer Schmelzer 7-116, Robby Sweers 6-113, Jake Jensen 3-38.