WEBSTER CITY - Win and they're in. But getting "in" isn't necessarily good enough anymore.
Playing at home in the playoffs, now that's more like it.
For the Webster City football team to enjoy a 10th game on its home turf later this month, the path is quite clear, and there's little to no wiggle room.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
WCHS linebackers Nelson Ball (40) and Brandon Patten (24) stuff Clear Lake’s Cody Maulsby (4) for no gain last week. The Lynx defense is surrendering just 107 yards rushing per game entering tonight’s contest.
For starters, the Lynx (4-2, 3-1 Class 3A District 3) must win tonight when they make the long haul east to tackle Waverly Shell-Rock (2-4, 0-3) in Waverly at 7:30 p.m.
WCHS currently sits tied atop the district with Humboldt (3-3, 3-1), with Clear Lake (4-2, 2-1) and Iowa Falls-Alden (3-3, 2-1) just a half-game back.
"We're very aware of where we stand and the good part is we don't have to rely on anybody else," WCHS head coach Bob Howard said. "If we win this week and then next week (against Humboldt) we'll be guaranteed at least second (in the district) and that means a home playoff game. But if you don't win this first one then the second one doesn't matter as much.
"It is a real fine line."
But Howard also knows that the records mean next to nothing this week. His own team is coming off a humbling 24-7 loss to Clear Lake last week, and Waverly-Shell Rock owns the talent and weaponry to be better - much better, in fact - than its record.
In other words, this is the farthest thing from a guaranteed victory.
"They're a lot better than their record, I know that," Howard said of the Go-Hawks. "They've had turnovers in every game and that seems to be their downfall, but they do have big offensive and defensive lines."
Turnovers have been the story in District 3 this season, and it seems every team has benefitted and been harmed.
WCHS turned it over twice last week in scoring situations, while Clear Lake was perfect. But the Lions went the other way in a 26-10 Week 5 loss to Humboldt, coughing it up on three straight second-half possessions, which enabled the Wildcats to rally.
W-SR turned it over six times in a loss to Algona last month.
"Turnovers are always a huge deal and a lot of the big wins this year have had turnovers associated with them," Howard said. "We don't talk a lot about (turnovers) because you don't want the kids thinking about it, but the turnover margin is always a huge deal."
Curtailing turnovers will be crucial, no doubt, but so will the Lynx ability to slow down Go-Hawks' senior fullback Bryce Miller, who ranks fourth in the district with 523 yards rushing.
WCHS limited Miller to a measly 25 ground yards a season ago in a 35-21 victory in the first round of the state playoffs. But two years ago, as a sophomore, Miller rambled for 174 yards and one touchdown in the Go-Hawks 37-6 thumping of the Lynx in the same round of the playoffs.
"(Miller) isn't real big, but he's a tough kid and he's used to carrying the ball a lot," Howard said. "They want to smash, smash, smash right up the middle, and we want to get him running laterally. If he's able to run the dive or the trap up the middle, then we're going to be in trouble."
WCHS hasn't had much difficulty stopping the run this season, however. Teams are averaging just 107 yards per game against the run-stuffing unit, keyed by an aggressive front four and agile linebackers Nelson Ball, Rylee Lawson and Brandon Patten.
The Lynx haven't allowed more than 152 yards on the ground in a game this season.
"Usually we want to make teams throw," Howard said. "And most of the time we've matched up fairly well against Waverly with our style of defense against their style of offense."
WCHS ranks second in the district - behind Iowa Falls-Alden - in total offense with 1,919 yards. The Lynx are tops in rushing yards with 1,395.
Lynx junior tailback Connor Larson slipped from first to second in the district in real estate lugging the ball; he enters this week's contest with 563 yards and eight touchdowns.
Junior spinback Alex Oswald (446 yards rushing) is fifth in the district.