EVERETT - The Everett football team looked somewhat tentative and rusty on its first possession Friday night.
But from there, the Warriors set it on cruise control.
Everett scored on each of its next four possessions to end the first half and never looked back in a 32-6 win over West Branch in an Inter-County Conference Gold Division game.
"I think we got into a rhythm," Everett coach Mark Kirk said. "When you get in a rhythm like that, it just kind of steamrolls. The kids start to believe in what you're doing."
Colton Mearkle's 33-yard punt return in the first quarter jump-started Everett's rout.
Three plays later, Barkley Rhoat scampered into the end zone from 25 yards out.
West Branch's Parker Emigh fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Everett took over at the West Branch 20.
Four plays later, Rhoat picked up his second touchdown to give Everett a 14-0 lead.
"We saw a couple of things they weren't defending real well," Kirk said. "We just kept going with the option. I was a little upset that we didn't have more of a prominent running game inside."
It didn't end there.
On Everett's next series, Spencer McInroy had three completions for a total of 36 yards, and after Mearkle picked up 17 more on the ground, McInroy punched it in from the 4.
The Everett defense stood tall on a fourth-and-4 play in its own end of the field, and the offense drove 66 yards in 2:37 to take a commanding 26-0 halftime lead.
Each of Everett's scoring drives started no worse than at its own 34.
Everett (2-3, 1-1 ICC Gold) finished with 159 yards on 32 carries - Rhoat had 67, Mearkle had 48.
McInroy was an impressive 10-for-11 for 92 yards.
"When you can run the ball, that opens up a lot of playaction," Kirk said. "Field position played a key part in that, too."
"We didn't play well," West Branch coach Lester Smeal said. "We weren't ready to play. Not taking anything away from them, they came out and they were ready. We weren't. It's just that simple. We didn't tackle real well, we weren't getting the blocks that we needed - we were just flat."
West Branch (2-3, 0-2) gained most of its 239 offensive yards in the second half, where it was finally able to get on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter.
Chad Speigle carried the ball 30 times for 122 yards - an offnight according to Smeal - while West Branch racked up 185 yards on the ground.
"Typically, we're talking about him getting a little bit more than that," Smeal said. "For us, that's low production for him."
"I think we pretty much shut him down for the most part," Kirk said. "I was really pleased with that."
Kyle Sheaffer capped off the scoring with a nifty one-handed grab in the backfield on an option run and dove into the end zone 12 yards later, but it wasn't all good news for Everett.
Everett had three touchdowns negated by penalties and was flagged nine times for 82 yards.
And that won't sit well when Everett visits undefeated Bellwood-Antis next week.
"That's one thing we talked about [in the postgame huddle]," Kirk said. "That last one [on Jacob Jay's interception return] was uncalled for.
"I told the kids that's going to hurt us sometime. It could take a victory away. We have to play smarter, not harder. I think we play hard, we just sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot mentally."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
West Branch0 0 0 6 - 6
Everett14 12 0 6 - 32
E-Rhoat 25 run (Sheaffer pass from McInroy), 3:41.
E-Rhoat 11 run (kick failed), 2:06.
E-McInroy 4 run (pass failed), 9:59.
E-Mearkle 15 run (run failed), 2:00.
WB-Sanker 3 run (pass failed), 11:11.
E-Sheaffer 12 run (pass failed), 3:18.
RUSHING: West Branch-Speigle 30-122, Emigh 5-31, Williams 6-24, Sanker 4-5, Smeal 1-3. Everett-Rhoat 7-67, Mearkle 3-48, Ritchey 1-15, Sheaffer 1-12, Droz 6-8, Jays 3-7, McInroy 7-7, Karns 1-2, TEAM 2-(-7).
PASSING: West Branch-Sanker 4-8-2-46, Williams 1-1-0-8. Everett-McInroy 10-11-0-92.
RECEIVING: West Branch-Smeal 2-23, Emigh 2-23, Stone 1-8. Everett-Sheaffer 4-37, Rhoat 2-11, Mearkle 2-7, Jays 1-34, Ritchey 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Everett-Mearkle, Jay.