Defense Shines as West Branch Rallies Past Wapello In Second Half

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Susan Harman

Your Prep Sports 

WEST BRANCH – The defense held the fort until the offense awakened in the third quarter, as Class 1A third-ranked West Branch foiled Wapello’s upset bid, 24-7, Friday at Butch Pedersen Field.

The Bears trailed 7-3 at halftime with the offense in hibernation mode.

West Branch didn’t have great field position all half and was only able to put together one drive of substance, reaching the Indians’ 3-yard line. But Wapello’s defense stiffened and held the Bears to a 20-yard Cael Fiderlein field goal.

Meanwhile, Wapello was able to score on a big play by senior running back Ricky Pforts.

The Indians caught the Bears in a blitz, and Pforts was able to break up the middle and outrace one last Bear defender for a 63-yard touchdown.

“I think we missed a tackle and from there on if someone misses a tackle and we’re in a blitz that gap is pretty much wide open,” Bears lineman Jeff Bowie said. “Our defense is really good, and it’s based on accountability. You have to be accountable for your tackle, and when you have one you have to make it.”

West Branch’s defense held Wapello to two first downs in the first half and 66 yards rushing.

Considering 63 of that came on one play, it was obvious that the Bears’ defense was in control.

“The first half it felt like we were definitely coming out hot on defense,” Bowie said.

But the offense had work to do.

“The one thing we really didn’t want to do was panic,” Senior receiver Trey Eagle said. “We came out really flat (in the first half) and we didn’t want to really do that, but we adjusted at halftime. We came out with a lot of energy. The line really took control and set the tone for everyone else.”

The third quarter was the key.

The Bears put together a seven-play, 87-yard touchdown drive capped by a 52-yard hitch-and-go touchdown pass from Gavin Hierseman to Eagle.

“We saw that they were giving a lot of cushion on the outside,” Eagle said. “We ran out routes before that, and they came up really hard. They bit on the out, and Gavin threw a really nice ball.”

“Really I think we just took the reins off,” acting coach John Hierseman said. “We spread the field out and let Gavin (Hierseman) read it a little bit. Really, we wanted to pick away at them. They were playing a deep coverage, and we were going to pick away at them.

“Well, we picked away at them for one play and then they stepped up. So, OK, all right we’re going to go downtown, and it worked. We scored on that same play last year too.”

On Wapello’s first play from scrimmage after the kickoff the Bear defense recovered a fumble on a lateral behind the line of scrimmage and took over at the Wapello 11-yard line.

Gavin Hierseman converted that into a touchdown on a quarterback draw.

Within 27 seconds the Bears had turned the game inside out and had a 17-7 lead.

“That was the tide changer of the game,” coach Hierseman said.

“That was huge,” Eagle said. “We could feel their emotion was slipping away, and we really built on that. That put the nail in the coffin with that fumble recovery and Gavin scoring on that quarterback run right away.”

The Bears’ next possession began at the 50 and they drove to the eight before a fumble set them back to the 12.

Hierseman lofted a fade pass into the end zone, and Eagle leaped over his defender to snag the pass for the touchdown six seconds into the fourth quarter.

“That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Eagle said. “Tall, lanky kid, you got to go get those jump balls, and luckily I did that.”

The Bears’ defense held Wapello without a first down in the second half to finish the game having allowed two. In the second half Wapello rushed for a minus-23 yards and passed for 31. Pforts, who had a 63-yard run, finished with 88 yards (minus-3 in the second half on seven carries).

The Indians were without the quarterback who started game one, sophomore Tade Parsons, because of injury. Junior Keaton McConahay completed 3-of-9 passes.

“We knew their quarterback was hurt…and we knew their running back was going to be the star of the team, so we were really pretty focused in on him,” Bowie said.

Coach Butch Pedersen was suspended for the game after being thrown out of the first game of the year while arguing an official’s call.

Pedersen was not in the Little Rose Bowl for the game but appeared shortly after its conclusion and told the team he was proud of their efforts. He will be back at the helm when West Branch (2-0) travels to Williamsburg (1-1) next Friday.

Wapello           7   0    0   0  –   7

West Branch  0   3   14  7  –  24

WAP – Ricky Pforts 63 run (Hector Zepeda kick)

WB – Cael Fiderlein 20 field goal

WB – Trey Eagle 52 pass from Gavin Hierseman (Fiderlein kick)

WB – Hierseman 11 run (Fiderlein kick)

WB – Eagle 12 pass from Hierseman (Fiderlein kick)

                                    Wapello            West Branch

First downs                       2                        15

Rushing-yards               28-51                 33-125

Comp-att-int                  3-9-0                  8-15-0

Passing-yards                 31                        117

Punts-avg.                    9-35.7                  7-36.9

Fumbles-lost                  2-1                       2-1

Penalties-yards              4-25                      3-15

Individual Statistics

RUSHING – WAP: Ricky Pforts 16-88, Mitchell Moore 5-(-5), Keaton McConahay 5 -(-15), Team 2-(-17). WB: Tanner Lukavsky 16-72, Gavin Hierseman 7-33, Dakota Kaalberg 4-20, Wyatt Goodale 2-4, Dominic Culver 2-4, Team 2 -(-8).

PASSING – WAP: Keaton McConahay 1-9-0-31. WB: Gavin Hierseman 8-15-0-117.

RECEIVING – WAP: Caden Thomas 1-20, Daniel Meeker 1-6, Mitchell Moore 1-5. WB: Trey Eagle 3-79, Tanner Lukavsky 4-38, Dakota Kaalberg 1-0.

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