HUMBOLDT - Flying by the seat of its pants as bodies continued to pile up because of injuries, Webster City had district leader Humboldt on the ropes and sucking wind as the two teams shuffled into the locker rooms for halftime Friday night.
But in less than 4 minutes of game time - 3 minutes, 45 seconds to be exact - everything the Lynx had built crumbled at their feet.
Taking advantage of short fields thanks to Webster City miscues, Humboldt needed just four plays to score three touchdowns midway through the third quarter to take the lead for good in a 28-24 victory over the Lynx in Class 3A District 3 play.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City tailback Connor Larson (7) eludes Humboldt linebacker Brady Ross (43) on his way to a 50-yard touchdown run in the first half on Friday in Humboldt. Larson rushed for 161 yards and three scores, but a big second half lifted the Wildcats to a 28-24 victory.
Humboldt (5-3, 4-1) won for the fifth straight time and needs only a victory over winless Charles City (0-7, 0-5) in Week 9 to wrap up the district championship. Webster City (4-4, 3-3) dropped its third straight decision leading into its regular season finale against non-district foe Storm Lake (3-5).
The Lynx will join Humboldt in the playoffs as the district's No. 4 seed.
WCHS lost sophomore wingback Cal Zahn to a concussion in the first quarter; he was helped off the field and taken immediately to a nearby hospital for observation.
Webster City 0 16 0 8-24
Humboldt 7 0 21 0-28
HUMB - Brady Ross 57 run (Austin Zylstra kick), 4:42.
WCHS - Connor Larson 50 run (Larson run), 11:11.
WCHS - Larson 1 run (Ben Mossman pass from Trey Tesdahl), 0:44.
HUMB - Jaxon Heinz 24 pass from Ben Jacobson (Zylstra kick), 7:54.
HUMB - Ross 1 run (Kyle Paulson pass from Jacobson), 6:15.
HUMB - Heinz 26 pass from Jacobson (pass failed), 4:14.
WCHS - Larson 3 run (Boone Myers pass from Tesdahl), 2:23.
Rushing - WCHS: Connor Larson 27-161, Trey Tesdahl 24-58, Cal Zahn 3-43, Austin Myers 5-32.
Passing - WCHS: Tesdahl 6-15-1 73.
Receiving - WCHS: Ben Mossman 4-31, Tyler Lockwood 1-22, Boone Myers 1-20.
Tackles - WCHS: Larson 6, A. Myers 5.5, Gus Gasca 4, Tesdahl 3.5, Nelson Ball 3, B. Myers 2.5, Lockwood 2, Brandon Patten 1.5, Alex Lomeli 1.5, Mossman 1, Marshall Weber 1, Cooper Jaycox .5.
Zahn joined spinback Alex Oswald and middle linebacker Rylee Lawson in the MASH unit and left head coach Bob Howard with even fewer options than he already had. Trey Tesdahl had already moved over from wingback to spinback, so when Zahn went down the Lynx were out of players at the wingback spot.
"I'm out of bodies," Howard said. "We just don't have anybody (to play wingback) and that took away one of our threats."
Bruising sophomore tailback Brady Ross - the districts' leading rusher - rambled for 231 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats, and quarterback Ben Jacobson completed 4 of 12 passes for 76 yards and two more scores in the win.
Following a Lynx fumble deep in their own territory early in the third quarter, Jacobson's first scoring connection to Jaxon Heinz on a 24-yard toss in the left corner of the end zone brought Humboldt to within 16-14 and set things in motion for a disastrous stretch for the Lynx.
"We turned the ball over and that was essentially the ballgame," Howard said. "But I thought the kids came out ready to play, and we played pretty good defense."
A quick three-and-out forced WCHS to punt from its own goal line, and two Ross runs later - a 40-yard sprint followed by a 1-yard plow off tackle into the end zone - Humboldt had the lead, 22-18.
It only got worse for the Lynx a few minutes later when they went for it on fourth-and-2 from their own 28 and were stopped well short of the sticks. A bad snap to tailback Connor Larson allowed Humboldt time to get into the backfield and there was nowhere for Larson to go.
Just one play later, Jacobson went back to Heinz, this time for a 26-yard touchdown over the middle to give the Wildcats a 28-16 edge.
Humboldt head coach Greg Thomas says he wasn't caught off guard by the Lynx pushing the envelope on their own side of the field.
"I wasn't surprised they went for it (on fourth down)," he said. "With everything that's happened to them in the last couple of weeks, they were looking for something. I've got a lot of respect for coach Howard and everything he's done and nobody knows his program as well as he does."
WCHS cut its deficit to four points with 2:23 remaining in regulation on Larson's third touchdown of the game - a 3-yard jaunt that capped an 83-yard drive that included key completions of 22 and 20 yards from Trey Tesdahl to Tyler Lockwood and Boone Myers.
Tesdahl, making his first career start at spinback, gave Howard reason for optimism. He completed 5 of 15 passes for 73 yards, and also gained 58 tough rushing yards on 24 carries.
"He did a great job I thought," Howard said. "He's got a lot of mental toughness and he likes being in the spotlight in a positive way. The fact that he kept battling the whole game was a big deal."
WCHS used its timeouts and forced a shanked punt that gave it the ball back at midfield with 1:08 left on the clock. But thoughts of a last-second victory quickly evaporated following a false start penalty and back-to-back sacks.
Tesdahl's desperation third-down pass was intercepted by Jerod Hauck with less than 20 seconds remaining.
Larson played a pivotal role in giving WCHS a 16-7 lead at halftime. He broke off a 50-yard scoring scamper early in the second quarter and later finished off a 16-play, 81-yard drive that chewed more than 6 minutes off the clock with a 1-yard dive across the goal line.
Larson gained 119 of his 161 yards rushing in the first half.
"(Larson) played great and he's playing both ways now," Howard said. "I thought the kids did a heck of a job on that drive right before halftime."
Larson also collected a team-high six tackles, including five solo stops and half a sack, at linebacker in place of Lawson. Austin Myers had 5 tackles.
WCHS out-gained Humboldt 367-326 and held a better than two to one advantage in time of possession (32:23 to 15:37). The Lynx ran 76 plays to the Wildcats' 43.
"I give the Webster City coaching staff a lot of credit for getting that team ready to play," Thomas said. "We're just thrilled to get this win because we know there are no easy wins in this district."
Ben Mossman led the Lynx receivers with four catches that covered 31 yards - all in the first half. He, too, was forced to play on both sides of the ball following Zahn's injury.