Well-traveled West Branch Embracing the Role as Playoff Road Warriors


Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

WEST BRANCH – One thing stood out immediately to West Branch players when they saw their postseason path to the UNI-Dome.

The travel.

As a district runner-up the Bears anticipated an opening-round road game.

What West Branch did not expect was back-to-back four plus our round trips to start postseason play

That’s what the Bears got so instead of looking at the travel as a negative the Bears are enjoying it.

“We kind of enjoy it honestly,” Senior center Jaden Hierseman said. “Bus rides are always kind of fun we have a good time on there but we know it’s business too.”

Class 1A sixth-ranked West Branch (9-1) handled its business on the road last week in the form of a 56-14 opening round win over win at Osage.

West Branch will a tougher task and an only slightly shorter trip on Friday when it hits the road again to face defending 1A champion and third-ranked Van Meter (10-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. in a 1A quarterfinal.

“We were looking at the bracket and we all just said this is our destiny,” West Branch senior lineman Drake Bloem said. “We can choose to quit and end at Osage or we can try to push forward and try to get as far as we can.”

Including a 48-24 win at Dyersville Beckman to close the regular season West Branch has won two straight games away from the Little Rose Bowl.

A third on Friday would send the Bears back to the UNI-Dome and Class 1A semifinals for the first time since 2011.

Standing in the way is a Van Meter team that has won 23 consecutive games dating back to last season.

“They are a really good team, they’ve won I think it’s 23 straight games so we are looking to go in on Friday and play a tough, physical game,” Hierseman said. “We will be ready.”

Van Meter has been one of the top defensive teams in the Class 1A over the past two seasons.

The Bulldogs are allowing 6.9 points per game during their 23-game winning streak and are holding opponents to 7.6 points per contest this season.

A Van Meter defensive front led by 6-foot-7, 220-pound Iowa commit Chris Reames at defensive end is among the best in 1A.

The Bulldogs are holding opponents to 215 total yards and 133 rushing yards per game this season.

“They just do a really good job at what they do,” West Branch offensive coordinator John Hierseman said. “They don’t throw a lot of crazy defensive looks at you, not a lot of crazy blitzes they just do what they do and they do it well.”

West Branch counters with a balanced offense that has shown the ability to be explosive as well as methodical.

Senior quarterback Beau Cornwell has thrown for 1,979 yards and 23 touchdowns for a West Branch offense that averages 368 yards and 39 points per game.

The key for the Bears on Friday may be the running game led by junior Tanner Lukavsky who has rushed for 1,234 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“I think running the football is kind of our bread and butter and I think they are really similar to us,” Bloem said. “I think it’s going to be a dog fight until the end. Bigs on bigs all night long.”