The West Hancock football team has ridden its spectacular running game to the verge of a district championship. This week against West Fork, the Eagles have a chance to cement their status even further.
The Eagles have three backs with over 500 yards for the season. Whenever asked about his team’s dominant rushing game, West Hancock coach Mark Sanger gives plenty of credit to the team’s veteran offensive line.
“I think it relies heavily on our offensive line,” Sanger said. “Our guys up front, most of them have played three years together. They’ve had a lot of playing time for that, and their ability to communicate with each other when things aren’t going right, they’re pretty good at communicating with each other."
Sanger said it doesn’t hurt having three talented backs, either.
The Eagles employ a three-headed monster at running back. Tate Hagen is the fullback, and leads the team with 957 rushing yards on the season, with 17 touchdowns. Cole Kelly is second on the team with 681 yards and 11 yards, while Josef Smith is third with 554 yards.
“Tate is kind of our workhorse, the lunch pail type of guy,” Sanger said. “He runs tough.He’s a strong kid, a hard-nosed kid. We’ve got Josef, we can bring him out along the end. If he gets the season, he’s going to be tough to stop, … Cole Kelly is kind of a mixture of both. He’s got that bull in a china closet kind of thing. They all have their own brand a little bit, and they all fit well into our offense.”
This week, the Eagles will take on West Fork, winners of four straight games for the first time in school history. The Warriors have a dominant running back as well. Ian Latham has 989 yards on the season, along with 10 touchdowns.
"We let Ian do what Ian does," West Fork head coach James Perez said. "He makes good things happen. Everything he does, he's patient, he'll run you over on the next run. He just does everything right when it comes to that. He's just kind of the total package."
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The Warhawks began the season with two tough losses on the road, losing the opener to Saint Ansgar by a 66-14 score, and falling to Lake Mills 59-32. Since then, the Warhawks have been on a tear.
They began their current four-game winning streak with a 35-0 win over Central Springs, then beat Nashua-Plainfield by a score of 16-0. In the previous two weeks, the Warhawks beat both Belmond-Klemme and GT/RA.
During the winning streak, Latham has not rushed for fewer than 132 yards.
“They’re kind of the drivers seat of their own destiny, as are we,” Sanger said of his opponent. “It’s like when a rock meets a hard place, you’re going to figure out who is going to be better at it. They’re definitely a dangerous team. They’re talented, well-coached and organized, it’ll be a fun game to be a part of.”
During that same time, West Hancock has not allowed any single running back to rush for more than 65 yards. Perez credits the Eagles' size, as well as their football culture, as a big reason for their success.
"They're a great football team, and they're keeping the tradition going," Perez said. "They've got a a lot of seniors leading the way. They're fast, instinctive, and they're always around the football."
The Eagles and Warhawks will play at West Hancock at 7 p.m.