West Branch and Ursuline almost identical to coaches
When West Branch coach Ken Harris looked at the Ursuline Fighting Irish football team on film, he didn’t see any weaknesses.
Ironically, Ursuline coach Dan Reardon felt the same way after watching the Warriors.
Something has to give at 7 p.m. Saturday in Beloit when two of Mahoning County’s most talented teams face off in a Division IV, Region 13 quarterfinal.
“We get three films of them,” said Harris of exchanging film. “We started looking at it and we had a coaches meeting, and they don’t have many weak areas. Any position group you want to name, and they’re just a good solid football program. There aren’t any areas you feel like you can exploit at all. They’re solid everywhere.”
Luckily for the unbeaten Warriors (7-0), so are they.
Led by star quarterback Brock Hillyer, West Branch has scored at least 34 points in every game and is having its best start to a season since 1994. Hillyer is the main reason why. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior has completed 118-of-174 passes (68 percent) for 1,560 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“They do as good of a job of spreading the field and making you defend every inch of it as any team we played this year,” Reardon said. “(Hillyer) is a very, very talented young man who understands where the ball is supposed to go when he drops back to pass. He does a good job reading defenses. He’s hard to get after in the form of a blitz because he’s smart — he gets the ball to hot routes and so on.
“So, it’s a big challenge that way. He’s also talented running the football. He’s a dual-threat guy and presents a bunch of challenges.”
Hillyer isn’t the only weapon.
Seven different receivers have at least 10 receptions for West Branch. Nick Wilson leads the receiving corps with 27 catches, 433 yards and seven TDs. Alek Wilson also has 27 grabs, going for 243 yards and two TDs. David McKeiver (24 catches, 265 yards), Josh Gregory (19, 269), Andrew Coffee (13, 182) and Jaxon Hendershott (13, 144) provide the depth to which Reardon was referring.
Hillyer has a team-high 525 rushing yards and 10 TDs on 88 attempts, and Alek Wilson is next with 425 yards and nine TDs on 72 carries.
It’s an offense — and a team — that always seems to be on the same page.
“They have a lot of fun,” Harris said of his team. “Believe it or not, they actually enjoy practice. They’re always hooting and hollering. There’s laughter and stuff. They just enjoy each other’s company. They have a good time. They’re a good group of kids to be around.”
The Irish (5-2) have been having a good time this season as well.
Their offense is equally potent, led by senior quarterback Brady Shannon, who’s being recruited by Kent State and Youngstown State. He has completed 82-of-126 passes for 1,148 yards, 14 TDs and three interceptions. He has a few weapons as well.
Matthew Reardon, the coach’s son, leads them in receptions (28) and yards (397) and is tied with four TDs. Terrell Dillworth has 19 catches, 287 yards and four TDs.
Demarcus McElroy powers the run game with 454 yards and nine TDs on 88 carries. Dante Walker, a Western Michigan recruit, adds 278 yards on just 31 carries. Trenton Hill is another dangerous player with four rushing TDs.
Harris knows it’s a big challenge.
“Don’t give up the big play — that’s going to be vital,” he said. “We also have to be able to tackle well in space. Just the way that their offense is, they’re going to get guys 1-on-1, and we’re going to end up having to tackle in space pretty well. We’re just going to have to play good fundamental football, read our keys and tackle well.”
While offense is the glamorous part for each team, defense could be the difference.
Both teams’ defenses have played well for much of the season, often being overlooked because of how well the offenses have performed. They’ll be put to the test against one of the more formidable foes they’ve faced all year.
“Anytime you you have an undefeated season, you have a good defense to back up what your offense is doing,” Dan Reardon said. “They’re very, very sound in what they do. They play really hard. They make offenses work for everything they get. They very rarely give up a big play. It’s just a good defense.”
Once again, Harris has similar feelings about the Irish.
“(Walker) is the one linebacker and (John Edmonds) is the other,” he said. “They’re just really good, strong players. They get to the football. It’s tough to find a weak area on that team. They don’t really have any.”