Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH –Tanner Lukavsky is among the most experienced players on the West Branch roster.
A three-year starter with important roles on both sides of the ball Lukavsky has seen it all during his three-year prep career.
One area where Lukavsky has virtually no experience in any sport is sitting on the sideline.
A starter in football, basketball and baseball since his freshman season Lukavsky hasn’t spent much time watching from the bench.
That is what stood out to Lukavsky most about an opening round playoff loss to Pleasantville last season – the watching.
An ankle injury that slowed Lukavsky late in the season limited the Bears’ leading rushing to four carries for nine yards in a 32-13 season-ending loss.
“It was really frustrating especially because I thought I could help the team out but I couldn’t do anything,” Lukavsky said. “I just I had to stand there and watch everything unfold.”
Lukavsky was anything but a spectator last week when West Branch returned to the Class 1A playoffs.
The junior rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns as sixth-ranked West Branch (9-1) snapped a two-game playoff losing skid with an emphatic 56-14 road win at Osage.
“Last week felt great because my freshman year we lost to Regina and then last year we were 9-0 and lost that first round game,” Lukavsky said. “It was big for us to finally get that first win in the playoffs.”
Healthy and playing the best football of his career Lukavsky figures to be a key as West Branch travels to defending 1A champion Van Meter (10-0) on Friday seeking its first semifinal appearance since 2011.
“It feels good being 100 percent this year because last I couldn’t really cut and it was hard not being able to do anything to help our team,” Lukavsky said. “I definitely think I am starting to get to my best. I feel like I’m playing the way I thought I could play.”
A starter at linebacker as a freshman Lukavsky replaced the all-time leading rusher at West Branch Luke Lenoch as the Bear’s lead back last season.
Lukavsky rushed for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first six games before missing most of the final four games win the injury.
A bigger, stronger and more experienced Lukavsky has taken his game to the next level this season rushing for 1,234 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“Compared to last year he has gotten bigger, stronger and he’s running harder,” West Branch senior center Jaden Hierseman said. “He’s improved in every way.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Lukavsky has always been effective between the tackles runner.
With two years of experience under his belt Lukavsky has become a big play threat any time he touches the ball.
“I have definitely improved by ability to cut,” Lukavsky said. “I realized how important reading the defense is and seeing what the line is giving me. Experience has a helped a lot, last year there were some big holes and that was easy to read but this year even if a hole isn’t as big it’s easier to cut because I know what I need to do.”
Lukavsky leads Class 1A averaging 10.4 yards per carry.
The first 1,000 yard season of his career has come on more than 50 fewer carries than last season.
Lukavsky has seven 100-yard games but hasn’t carried the ball more than 17 times this season and has 15 or fewer carries in all but one game.
“It’s huge to have a back averaging 10 yards a carry that is 215 pounds, he has been a finisher for us, he’s really been a closer,” West Branch offensive coordinator John Hierseman said. “You have seen it where early in games he isn’t getting that yards per attempt average up but then late in the game all of a sudden it’s a 60-yard touchdown and he just wears guys down.
After the disappointment of having to watch last season’s playoff loss Lukavsky has been dynamite down the stretch this season.
He rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns and had five receptions for 100 yards in a must-win week nine victory at Dyersville Beckman.
Last week Lukavsky posted a season-high 205 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in the opening round win over Osage.
Since a loss to Bellevue in week five West Branch is averaging 183 rushing yards per game, a number that would be higher if a 28-0 win over Northeast wasn’t called after 11 minutes.
Lukavsky is averaging nearly 13 yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns during that five-game span.
The Lukavsky-led West Branch ground game will get its toughest test to date on Friday from a Van Meter defense that ranks among the best in 1A.
“We know that we need to be able to run the ball,” Lukavsky said. “At the beginning of the year it was a little shaky, I wasn’t get as many yards but we definitely have gotten better since Bellevue, that really opened our eyes up and our line has been amazing.”
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