WEBSTER CITY - Twelve months ago it was all about the quarterback.
Welcome back to 12 months ago.
Not a whole heck of a lot has changed in a year when it comes to Webster City's preparations to face Grinnell in a Class 3A state playoffs first-round game tonight at Lynx Field. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Grinnell quarterback Eli Dunne (4) lets the ball fly as he’s hit by Webster City’s Dylan Fielder and pressured by Connor Larson (7)?during last year’s Class 3A first-round playoff game in Grinnell. The Tigers, led once again by Dunne, will travel to Webster City tonight to take on the 10th-ranked Lynx in another first-round playoff game at 7 p.m.
The 10th-ranked Lynx - 8-1 entering the postseason for the third time in four years - know what they have to do. There are absolutely zero mysteries when it comes to slowing down the Tigers, who wrecked Webster City's season with a 38-14 win in this round a year ago.
WCHS can either slow down Grinnell senior QB Eli Dunne or it can't. Seriously, it's as simple as that.
"Dunne is the real deal. He's freakin' good and we know that," WCHS senior nose tackle Dylan Fielder said. "If we can contain him all night we have a pretty good shot of winning."
TONIGHT'S OTHER AREA PLAYOFF GAMES
South Hamilton at South Winneshiek
What: Class 1A first-round playoff game
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Records: South Hamilton 6-3, South Winneshiek 7-2.
For Winner: Date in Monday's second round against No. 2 Dike-New Hartford (9-0) or Sumner-Fredericksburg 6-3.
Notes: South Hamilton and South Winneshiek have one common opponent this season. The Warriors throttled Nashua-Plainfield, 66-13, in Week 1, while the Hawks lost to Nashua-Plainfield, 35-28, in Week 9 ... South Winn has scored at least 34 points in eight games, including outputs of 66, 50, 58, 76 and 68 ... South Hamilton has plenty of talent on defense, led by linebacker Sam Waid and cornerback Trevor Ullestad, who shares the 1A lead in interceptions with 8.
Northeast Hamilton at MMC Marcus
What: Class 8-man first-round playoff game
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Records: Northeast Hamilton 6-3, MMC 8-1.
For Winner: Advancement to Monday's second round against either No. 8 West Bend-Mallard (9-1) or Remsen-Union (5-4).
Notes: No. 7-ranked Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn is the reigning state champion. NEH won a state title in 2006 ... The Eagles' lone loss came against West Bend-Mallard, 28-18, in Week 2. NEH also lost to West Bend-Mallard, 60-18, in Week 3 ... Trojans' senior tailback Tyler Smith enters the game with 1,609 rushing yards, third-best in the class ... MMC features a balanced offense, passing for 1,120 yards while rushing for 2,416 more.
And if the Lynx can't? Yeah, you can probably fill in the rest.
"It's a game we can win and a game they can win and it should be a helluva game," WCHS head coach Bob Howard said. "(Dunne) is as good as there is in Iowa and he's got a couple of good receivers."
Dunne - a 6-foot-4 passing prodigy who has drawn interest from several Division I colleges - became just the seventh quarterback in state history to eclipse 7,000 career passing yards in Grinnell's 54-28 win over South Tama last Friday. He enters tonight's clash with a 3A-leading 2,303 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air this season while completing 60.1 percent of his passes. He's thrown just five interceptions in 243 attempts.
So, yeah, he's still good.
Grinnell (6-3) will spread the field with four and sometimes five receivers and allow Dunne to primarily work out of the shot gun. It's the same scheme the Tigers utilized last fall when Dunne went 21 of 33 for 385 yards and four TDs against the Lynx.
Some things have changed in 12 months, however, namely the Lynx defense. WCHS - the holder of five shutouts - hasn't allowed more than 22 points in regulation this season and opponents average just 8.33 points per game. The unit is fast, aggressive and as confident as they come.
Linebackers Nelson Ball (43 solo tackles) and Rylee Lawson (39) rarely get out of position. The front four of Fielder, Gus Gasca, Gavin Dinsdale and Cooper Jaycox have tormented passing teams all season; Dinsdale is tied for eighth in 3A with six sacks.
In other words, Dunne will have his work cut out for him.
"All we've got to do is bring it," WCHS spinback/strong safety Alex Oswald, who had a team-high nine tackles and an interception in the last meeting with Grinnell, said.
The BC Moore computer - a popular tool that uses strength of schedule and margin of victory among its criteria to predict outcomes - lists Grinnell as a less than half-point favorite. Oswald says he and his teammates know that many observers will side with the Tigers are far as predictions go and that's just fine with them.
"It doesn't matter what people say," Oswald said. "It just matters what we believe and what our coaches say. We've got the mentality that we're going to go out there and take it to them."
WCHS will also have to contend with Tigers' senior running back Bryce Lidtka, who has rushed for 844 yards and 18 scores. He banked 119 yards in the 2012 clash.
"Lidtka is one of the best running backs in the state, too, so they've got a good offense," Howard said.
The Lynx best defense may just be its offense, which has increased its efficiency in recent weeks. WCHS has held possession for more than 30 minutes in its last three games and has won the time of possession battle in six straight contests.
Dunne can't do any damage if he's stuck standing on the sideline.
"The best defense we can have is keeping them off the field," Oswald said. "Having seven- and eight-minute drives, that will be huge."
That onus will fall on the shoulders of Oswald and senior tailback Connor Larson, as well as an offensive line that has shown progression in recent weeks.
Larson is fourth in 3A with 1,336 yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He's reached the end zone 18 times.
Larson gained 121 yards on 19 totes in last year's opening round.
There should be room to run for the Lynx against a Grinnell defense that surrenders 24.6 points per game.
But when asked about tonight's battle, even Larson admitted his role isn't the focal point.
"We've got to shut Dunne down and they've got a good running game too, so we've also got to shut that down," he said.
Tonight's winner will advance to Monday's second round against either ninth-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes (8-1) or Humboldt (6-3) at a site to be determined.