WEBSTER CITY - The number of people picking Webster City to leave the football field celebrating tonight could be counted on one hand.
OK, maybe you don't even need that one hand.
Say hello to perhaps the biggest underdog in the Class 3A state playoffs field of 32.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City junior tailback Connor Larson (with ball) gets dropped by Storm Lake’s Jay Grant (8) during last Friday’s game at Lynx Field, which was won by the Tornadoes, 45-29. Larson needs just 28 yards rushing to reach 1,000 on the season in tonight’s Class 3A state playoffs opener against No. 2-ranked Grinnell.
Webster City (4-5) will try to quiet each and every one of the naysayers tonight when it tackles second-ranked and unbeaten Grinnell (9-0) in a first-round game on the Tigers' home soil. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Losers of four straight games and outscored 121-68 during that stretch, the Lynx will try to leave the disappointments in the past in their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason. But standing in their way is a Grinnell team that owns a pair of victories over ranked teams - No. 3 Williamsburg and No. 9 South Tama County - and five wins over playoff qualifiers.
So, yes, they're as good as advertised.
"They're very good and they deserve their ranking," WCHS head coach Bob Howard said. "If they play as well as they can play and we play as well as we can play then they're probably going to win. But any game is winnable if they turn the ball over three or four times and it's about time some of the turnovers came our way. If we can get a break or two then you never know."
The Lynx have turned the ball over 18 times this season - nine fumbles and nine interceptions - including seven times during the recent rough patch. And if that trend continues, well, things could get out of hand in a hurry.
"We can't turn the ball over and we can't have penalties," Howard said. "If we turn the ball over, it's not going to be good because they'll take advantage of that fast."
Grinnell's wide open, quick strike offense is orchestrated by 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior quarterback Eli Dunne, the son of Tigers' head coach Jim Dunne. Eli Dunne has completed 134 of 209 passes for 1,957 yards - the third-best total in the class - and 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season.
"He's a very good athlete. He throws well, he runs when he needs to and he throws on the move well," Howard said of Eli Dunne, who was also a second-team all-state pitcher on the baseball diamond this past summer. "And it's going to be a challenge (defensively) to give them something they haven't seen because I'm sure they've seen every blitz and every scheme that you can do."
Grinnell, which ranks third in 3A in points scored (42 per game), also has running back Bryce Lidtka at its disposal. He's rambled for 666 yards and 19 scores this fall.
Howard has always been a proponent of stopping the run first, and he says that won't change this evening.
"We still want to stop the run first, but we haven't been doing that real well recently either," he said. "When they spread you out it opens up a lot of gaps, so we've got to try to get them in some negative plays somewhere."
The Lynx best defense could be its offense. If they can move the ball and eat up minutes off the clock, it could go a long way towards keeping the contest competitive into the second half.
WCHS will rely on junior tailback Connor Larson, junior spinback Trey Tesdahl and senior wingback Austin Myers to pick up the majority of the yards. Larson ranks 17th in 3A with 972 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averages 6.5 yards per tote.
Grinnell allows just 10.2 points per game and only qualifier Boone (7-2) scored more than 14.
"Any team that's 9-0 is going to be decent on defense, too," Howard said. "They've got good-sized athletes."
And Howard's single wing offense may not be as difficult for Grinnell to pick up as other teams that face it for the first time. On the Tigers' coaching staff is Chris Coffman, who was an all-state running back for Howard at Sigourney-Keota prior to graduating in 1992. He spent four years learning and running the offense during his prep days.
"I really don't think that's a big deal. I don't know what specific help he can give them," Howard said. "The single wing is like any other offense; if you can defeat the guys at the line of scrimmage then you'll have the advantage."
Tonight's winner will advance to Monday's second round to face the winner of a first-round game between Boone and Clear Lake (7-2).