Jared Brinkman snaps the ball against Solon. Jackie Blake Jensen/IC Pixx.By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – There are no strangers in a rivalry like the one between Class 1A powerhouses Regina and West Branch.
With two schools that share a conference and are separated by eight miles both sides are familiar with opposing personnel.
“When you have two great schools that obviously are extremely close to each other these kids have played against each other in baseball, basketball, track, football,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “They’ve competed against one another in everything imaginable.”
There are never strangers when the two River Valley Conference rivals meet in any sport.
In the most recent matchup of two of the top 1A football programs in Iowa on Friday night at Regal Field there isn’t likely to be a lot of surprises either.
Both West Branch (6-3) and top-ranked Regina (8-1) are among the best in 1A at running the football.
West Branch ranks 11th in 1A averaging 262 yards per game on the ground while Regina is right behind at 261 yards per game, 13th best in 1A.
“We all really want to play them because it’s a great game to be in, it’s really physical and you know it’s going to be two really good teams playing and that’s what you want,” Regina senior lineman Jared Brinkman said. “We know what they are going to do, they know what we are going to do it’s just who can get it done.”
Both sides know how important the run game is in the rivalry.
Regina outgained West Branch 369 to 233 in a 35-28 win over the Bears in last year’s Class 1A quarterfinals.
The rushing stats were closer than they appear in last year’s thriller as West Branch gained its yards on 20 few carries.
Regina averaged 6.5 yards per attempt last year and West Branch averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
The team that establishes the ability to run the football better on Friday immediately gains an edge.
“I love playing West Branch because it’s going to be a battle in the trenches,” Regina senior lineman Reagen Ries said. “You are going to find out who the better offensive line and defensive line is this week.”
West Branch relies on senior all-state running back Luke Lenoch for its rushing production. The 5-9, 185-pound Lenoch ranks fourth in 1A with 1,722 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The headliners of the Regina ground game are the big guys up front.
Regina averages better than 250 pounds per player across an offensive line anchored by seniors Brinkman (6-2, 275) and Ries (6-0, 270).
“When you go 270, 270 and 270 they are going to be a handful,” West Branch head coach Butch Pedersen said. “They are the epitome of what 1A football is as far as the strength and conditioning. They have worked hard at their trade and we feel like we have done the same thing so both programs are similar in those ways.”
Juniors Steve Sehl and Alex Moore and sophomore Luke Stein join Ries and Brinkman on a Regina offensive line that has helped the Regals rush for more than 250 yards in five games this season.
The Regals rushed for 402 and 368 yards in back-to-back wins over Wilton and Van Buren. The last two weeks Regina has averaged 198 rushing yards in blowout wins to end the regular season.
Friday getting the running game going becomes the top priority against a West Branch defense that is holding teams to 125 yards per game on the ground.
“We are starting to click,” Ries said. “We are starting to figure it out and move some people around. We haven’t had a chance to run the ball as much the last couple of weeks but hopefully we can get out there and move the ball on the ground this week.”
Regina has used a committee approach to roll up rushing yards this season.
No Regal has more than 550 rushing yards but juniors Jake Phillips, Isaac Vollstedt and Michael Colon have combined to rush for 1,514 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Phillips leads the way with 547 yards and nine scores.
“It’s going to be a physical game and we have to just go out and do what we do,” Brinkman said.