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Warriors continue to come together

West Branch has won five straight games since season-opening loss to Canfield

Correspondent file photo / Lowell Spencer West Branch quarterback Dru DeShields gets set to throw a pass during a preseason scrimmage.

Sometimes, you have to take a step back to take a step forward, but in the case of the West Branch football team, their season-opening loss to Canfield, which could be considered a step back, ended up being a step forward for the highly-talented Warriors.

In a test of will, first-year head coach Tim Cooper and his West Branch football team took on head coach Mike Pavlansky and his hard-nosed Canfield football team, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the Division III, Region 9 computer rankings.

It was a barometer game for the Warriors, one where they saw where they stood, and while they were in the game throughout, they came up on the losing end.

Chalk it up to a learning experience.

“I think the world of the Canfield program. I think they are the measuring stick of the Valley with their success every year and Pavlansky does a great job with their kids and their schemes,” Cooper said. “So for our kids to compete and be in the game at the end of it, that was encouraging for us to see. To be in a close game in that type of environment in Week 1, it was really beneficial for us over the last five weeks or so.”

The Warriors could say that.

In their five games since, West Branch has scored 38 points or more and they are coming off a season-high 57-point performance against Minerva in Week 6. The Warriors also hung 48 points on Howland and 49 points on Revere.

Senior quarterback Dru DeShields has been a big piece of that offensive-explosion as he’s thrown for 1,738 yards and 20 touchdowns. But, the players around him have also stepped up this season. Outside of West Branch’s somewhat-new receiving corps, their two sophomore running backs have stepped up to the plate.

Boston Mulinix is West Branch’s leading rusher, tallying 54 carries for 439 yards and five touchdowns while Garin Harlan has garnered 25 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The pair of sophomore’s didn’t start out the season garnering a lot of touches though.

Against Canfield, DeShields carried the ball 23 times for 145 yards and one touchdown, and rightfully so. As the season has gone on though the Warriors have started to gain more trust in Mulinix and Harlan.

“They just haven’t been in meaningful moments in a varsity football game yet so that trust had to be earned,” Cooper said. “We just didn’t feel comfortable giving them 10-15 touches Week 1, whereas if Mulinix were to get 10 or 15 carries, or Harlan gets 10 or 15 carries now it’s just another day. They are explosive guys and they are still growing and learning and developing but it’s good to have that running game, especially with Dru being a threat with his legs.”

From outside the team, it seemed like the Warriors had another question to answer at the wide receiver position after losing their top pair of receivers in Nick Wilson and Jaxxon Hendershott, who combined for 2,248 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.

Cooper was never worried though and it turns out he was right.

Through six games, four different West Branch receivers have 300 or more receiving yards and sophomore Joey Jackson leads the group with 524 yards and eight touchdowns on 27 receptions.

Seniors Christian Martig and Michael Kanagy are right behind Jackson with 362 and 356 receiving yards respectively. Sophomore Anthony Perry is also in that group with 349 yards and five touchdowns on just 18 receptions, which is the lowest total of the group.

“We knew what we had coming back,” Cooper said. “We don’t necessarily have a Nick Wilson or a Jaxon Hendershott but I think that our weapons around Dru, as an overall, might be deeper than we were last year. I mean last week we had 11 guys catch at least one pass. So there’s a standard of excellence and our kids have really reached that.”

Cooper mentioned that he has stressed having the ability to spread defenses out with the number of athletes that they have and the kids have been ‘selfless’ in their approach throughout the season. Which has been another key to the success of the offense.

“They buy into our scheme and they know the ball is coming their way eventually, it’s just a matter of time,” Cooper said.

On top of their explosive offense, the Warriors have only allowed 91 points this season and 35 of those came against Canfield. So, over the past five games they’ve only allowed 11.2 points per game.

“We’ve just kinda settled into our scheme,” Cooper said. “I think coach (Shawn) Alazaus has done a great job with the defense this year. It’s his first year since I think 07 calling a defense.”

Despite the talent all over the field, it’s been somewhat of a perfect storm for the Warriors as everything has come together through the first six weeks of the season, but they aren’t done yet.

Cooper said they have goals of winning another conference championship, beating their rivals, and then going from there.

That all continues tonight as the Warriors travel to Marlington to take on the Dukes. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

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