WEBSTER CITY - By statistical standards, Webster City senior middle linebacker Nelson Ball has had a solid season up to this point.
He ranks sixth in Class 3A District 3 in solo tackles with 22. His 36 total stops - solo and assisted - places him seventh on the leaderboard.
But forget about the numbers. Just watch him move around the field for a play or two and one thing becomes crystal clear for even the most novice football fans: He's the heart and soul of this Lynx defense.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City middle linebacker Nelson Ball gets set to pounce during the Lynx 13-0 win over Ballard earlier this season. He enters tonight’s game at Algona with 22 solo tackles. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
And this Lynx defense is good.
"He's the real deal for us and it's fun watching him play," WCHS head coach Bob Howard said of Ball, who anchors the unit that has allowed just eight points per game so far to lead the district. "Coming into the season we were hoping he'd be the leader on defense for us and he has been."
The three-year starter very rarely gets out of position and his nose for the ball has been a key ingredient in two shutouts this season - a first for WCHS in 17 years.
The 10th-ranked Lynx (4-0, 2-0) will be focused on a third shutout - it would be the first time that's happened in 23 years - tonight when they travel north to take on Algona (1-3, 0-2) at 7:30 p.m.
What has been the secret to the defensive success? It's really not that hard to decipher.
"The attitude has been good and these guys enjoy playing defense," Howard said. "They all feed off Nelson to begin with and position by position, it's the fastest and strongest group we've had. They're not the biggest guys, but those kids have worked really hard and they're all able to run and get to the ball."
WCHS will face a new set of challenges tonight against the Bulldogs, who prefer to spread the field and pack it full of receivers. Quarterback Weston Shaw has thrown for a district-best 603 yards, but he has been intercepted seven times.
Algona receiver Justin Raymond averages 20.3 yards per catch.
"Most of the time they're in spread with usually twins on both sides and sometimes trips," Howard said. "They want to run the option out of the pistol and then they've been throwing about 30 times a game, and they throw deep."
But the Lynx aren't about to deviate from their game plan, one that remains constant.
Stop the run first and then worry about the pass.
"We want to make sure (Shaw) doesn't beat us running and he's athletic, so that's the first priority," Howard said. "And then we want to make sure we control their inside running game with (tailback Tyler) Frideres."
Frideres owns 252 yards on the ground, but Algona ranks last in the district in rushing yards at 491. The Bulldogs average just 3.6 yards per attempt.
"Basically we'll play them like we play everybody else and then try to get pressure on the passer," Howard said. "That's still the best pass defense."
After scoring just 31 points in its first two games, WCHS erupted for 34 in last week's blanking of Iowa Falls-Alden. The steady improvement will again need to take a jump forward tonight against a good Algona defense.
"Algona has got a tough defensive team and they're real physical up front," Howard said. "They're real similar to Charles City defensively (WCHS beat the Comets 27-26 in overtime), so it will be interesting to see how far we've come."
Senior tailback Connor Larson had the best game of his career last week, grinding out 226 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Cadets. He still sits second in the district with 553 yards and eight touchdowns; his yards per carry average has increased to 6.2.