Jack Jensen runs against Solon. Jackie Blake Jensen/IC Pixx. By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Defeating the top-ranked Regina football team is difficult under any circumstance.
It becomes virtually impossible for a team depleted by injuries as was the case for West Branch on Friday.
The short-handed Bears had no answer for Regina on offense or defense as the Regals rolled to a 49-15 victory in a Class 1A first-round playoff game at Regina.
Regina gave a hint of its dominance on the very first play from scrimmage when junior running back Isaac Vollstedt blasted through a huge hole and raced 87 yards for what would’ve been a touchdown if not for a penalty. Instead, Vollstedt was credited with a 37-yard gain.
Fellow junior Jake Phillips was the beneficiary of another massive hole on the next play from scrimmage, which he then turned into a 60-yard touchdown run just 40 seconds into the game.
Vollstedt then slipped past the defense and caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Michael Conlon on Regina’s next offensive series.
Senior cornerback Jack Jensen then capped the first quarter by returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown. Sam Stein converted his third consecutive point-after kick to expand the lead to 21-0 with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
The lead swelled to 35-7 at halftime, and by that point, the outcome was no longer in doubt as the Regals dominated in the trenches.
“The first two plays when you take them to the house, that really makes the safeties come down and opens up the passing game,” said Conlon, who completed 11-of-18 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. “Those first two plays were electric. The offense just played electric tonight.”
Much of the energy was supplied by Regina’s offensive line, which is led by seniors Jared Brinkman and Reagan Ries. The Regina line repeatedly carved out huge holes for the running backs and for Conlon.
“I thought that they were playing great,” Regina coach Marv Cook said of his offensive line. “I thought their pad level was real good. I thought they were playing down hill and finishing blocks.
“And, obviously, Isaac running and Jake running, and throw (Conlon) in there as well, that makes it tough to defend us.”
Regina finished with 469 yards, including 215 rushing yards. Vollstedt led the ground attack with 123 rushing yards on 16 carries.
“It’s pretty unbelievable how big and open the holes were for me,” Vollstedt said. “So it’s not too hard to do my job when the line is doing their job that well.”
The Regals also took to the air early and often as Conlon had 188 passing yards by halftime.
“Every game we go in with an idea we may run or pass a little more,” Conlon said. “And this week, we wanted to see how it just kind of played out. And we got here with some ideas that we might try to pass.
“And as we went out, we just saw that we could move the ball with passing so we just stuck with that and it worked well. The offensive line can pass blocking and when you can just sit back there makes it so much easier.”
The Regals improved to 9-1 with the victory and moved a step closer to winning a seventh consecutive state title. The next step figures to be tougher, though, as Regina will face second-ranked Pella Christian in the second round next Friday.
“They’re a good team, they’re well coached and they play hard,” Conlon said of Pella Christian. “We’re just going to focus on preparing ourselves the best we can and see what happens.”
Conlon played quarterback exclusively on Friday with senior Tommy Rapp out with a knee injury. Conlon also has played receiver this season.
As for West Branch, Friday’s loss ended a season that was marred by injuries at key positions, including quarterback.
Cooper Kabela played quarterback on Friday, but he started the season as West Branch’s big-play receiver. Kabela faced constant pressure in the pocket and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and nearly had a third pick-six, but it was erased by a penalty.
West Branch senior running back Luke Lenoch ended his illustrious career by surpassing 6,000 career rushing yards on his final carry of the game. Lenoch was held to just 22 rushing yards in the first half, but finished with 114 yards overall, with much of it coming on West Branch’s final scoring drive.
“It means we’re pretty good up front, I guess you could say,” Lenoch said when asked what surpassing 6,000 rushing yards meant to him. “Just being out on the field and playing with them and being able to get those stats along with it is just something that never will be replaced in my memory.
“I’ve just cherished every second of these last four years. It sucks that it’s over, but you just have to look at all the bright sides and remember it for the rest of my life.”
Lenoch refused to use injuries as an excuse for the lopsided score.
“That’s how it’s been all season,” he said. “We could have said that week five. But we were like, `you know what? We’re just going to give it our best shot no matter who is on the field.’ And despite what the scoreboard said, we gave it our best shot.
“Regina is a hell of a football team and always is. Best of luck to them down the road. But we’re not one to make excuses. Whoever we throw out there, we’re going to try our hardest.”
Jensen in addition to having a pick six also caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Conlon in the second quarter. Jensen led Regina with four catches for 69 yards.
Senior Brady Bigley also returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and had another pick six wiped out by a penalty.
“I think our kids have locked back in and are focused and understand that it’s one day at a time and you have to get better each day,” Cook said. “Our practices have been really good. I think we’re getting our tempo back up, we’re getting our pace back up. And that was the one thing we wanted to see tonight, we wanted to see us play fast again.”
Regina has won five consecutive games against West Branch, which is Cook’s alma mater. Cook praised Lenoch after the game for his rushing milestone.
“He’s a great football player, and obviously, a great career,” Cook said. “I think he went over 6,000 yards tonight. As an alumni of West Branch, it’s never been done. It’s pretty darn amazing.
“We’ve seen a lot of highlights of him and he’s a great football player.”
West Branch Regina
First downs 11 19
Rushes-yards 31-89 25-215
Passing yards 117 254
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 2-20 7-65
West Branch 0 7 0 8 – 15
Regina 21 14 14 0 – 49
ICR – Jake Phillips 60 run (Sam Stein kick)
ICR – Issac Vollstedt 69 pass from Michael Conlon (Stein kick)
ICR – Jack Jensen 28 interception return (Stein kick)
ICR – Jensen 41 pass from Conlon (Stein kick)
ICR – Vollstedt 1 run (Stein kick)
WB – Jacob Graves 9 pass from Cooper Kabela (Beau Cornwell kick)
ICR – Vollstedt 20 run (Stein kick)
ICR – Brady Bigley 24 interception return (Stein kick)
WB – Luke Lenoch 26 run (Lenoch run)
Rushing – WB: Luke Lenoch 21-114, Garrett Tucker 1-8, Cale Donovan 1-1. ICR: Isaac Vollstedt 16-123, Jake Phillips 3-68, Michael Conlon 4-36, Patrick Clark 2-minus-12.
Passing – WB: Cooper Kabela 10-20-2-117. ICR: Michael Conlon 11-18-254, Prescott Arendt 0-1-0.
Receiving – WB: Jacob Graves 4-73, Tanner Lukavsky 3-26, Ben Thompson 2-10, Cale Donovan 1-8, Brett Schiele 1-5. ICR: Jack Jensen 4-69, Isaac Vollstedt 2-70, Trae Rogers 2-54, Jake Phillips 1-25, Noah Felderman 1-8.