West Branch senior Luke LenochBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Luke Lenoch walked off the field at the Little Rose Bowl last Friday following an overtime loss to Clayton Ridge wondering if his high school career was over.
West Branch missed an opportunity to clinch an automatic spot in the postseason with its 33-27 loss to the Eagles in the regulate season finale and had to wait on the word on a potential at-large playoff berth.
Less than two hours after he feared he had played his final game as a prep Lenoch learned he would get another chance.
Lenoch and West Branch (6-3) will try to make the most of that chance when it travels to top-ranked Regina (8-1) on Friday for a Class 1A playoff opener between long-time rivals at Regal Field at 7 pm.
“It was tough walking off that field not sure if we were going to play again,” Lenoch said. “We knew even before it became official there was a pretty good chance we were going to make it and probably around midnight I saw that we were in the playoffs and that kind of brightened the mood.”
A traditional power coming off back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons the playoffs postseason West Branch faced an uphill climb to a ninth straight playoff berth five weeks into the season.
West Branch was coming off a 26-13 week five loss to district leading Bellevue, was without five injured starters and was prepared to start its third different quarterback of the season.
The Bears responded with three straight wins before the overtime loss to Clayton Ridge in the season finale.
“When any time I don’t care what sport it is makes a state tournament it’s pretty special and the kids are happy, they are excited and they should be,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said. “They’ve been reward for a very difficult season and I’m happy for them.”
With its playoff life on the line over final four weeks of the regular season West Branch leaned on Lenoch.
The senior running back rushed for 799 of his 1,722 yards this season in the final four games scoring 15 touchdowns during that four-game span.
Lenoch leads Class 1A with 270 carries this season and needs 94 yards Friday to reach 6,000 for his career.
“There are moving guys around and trying to get guys in the right position to be successful so you are going to have to prepare for a lot but understand that Luke Lenoch is the staple of their offense,” Regina coach Marv Coo said. “That has been their one consistent so we have to be ready for that and then be able to cover up everything else.”
Getting Lenoch going Friday will be critical if West Branch is to pull the upset against six-time defending state champion Regina.
Lenoch rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in last year’s 35-28 quarterfinal loss to Regina.
“It definitely helps having that experience from last year to know how they play and what they do,” Lenoch said. “Just knowing that we are capable of coming out with a win and that we can play with those guys it definitely helps.”
Friday will mark the fifth meeting in the past five seasons between West Branch and Regina.
Regina has won all three, including both playoff matchups in that span in 2012 and last season.
Lenoch considered it fitting his second chance on the season came against a team West Branch hasn’t defeated during his career.
“West Branch and Regina I think even they know that no matter what the record is we are going to come in and be ready to fight,” Lenoch said. “We have put up a fight in just about every game we have played them.”