CLEAR LAKE - Bob Howard didn't hesitate, nor did he stutter. The words flowed from his mouth with conviction, and although he masked it, probably a little trepidation as well.
"This is the best Clear Lake team I've seen since I've been here," Howard said when asked about the next opponent for his Webster City football team tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Lions Field in Clear Lake. "They're very good, they're very athletic and they're very big."
Howard's statement could just be coach speak as he prepares his players for a battle with the top-ranked (Class 2A) Lions. But if, in his heart of hearts, he truly believes that?
Webster City senior wingback Domenic Khaleet (32) takes the hand-off from quarterback Avery Fuhs (24) during the Lynx Week 1 road loss to Gilbert. WCHS will again jump on the bus tonight for a 7:30 p.m. date with top-ranked (Class 2A) Clear Lake. DFJ photo/Troy Banning
Look the heck out.
Clear Lake (1-0) is 71-11 since Howard took over the WCHS program in 2007, six of those wins coming at the expense of the Lynx.
The perennial power has popped off double-digit win totals in five of the past seven seasons and unless something unexpected happens, the Lions will most likely reach that level again this fall.
What's their secret? Tradition, for starters. Under head coach Fred Wieck, Clear Lake lived in the 3A top five in the rankings, and now that they're down a level they've only jumped higher.
"They just seem to plug in new kids and go," Howard said. "They're real balanced again and it will be the same Clear Lake defense that they always have. They're big and fast on that side of the ball and they play real hard."
Coming off a 38-6 loss against ninth-ranked (3A) Gilbert in Week 1, WCHS (0-1) will attempt to pull off one of the bigger upsets of the week and also end a 15-game losing skid in the series.
The Lynx will face another diverse offense with weaponry from sideline to sideline. Senior quarterback Brock Adams is the architect for Clear Lake, which drilled 4A Mason City 44-7 in its opener seven days ago. A three-year starter, Adams has created headaches for WCHS in two previous meetings; he was 8 of 11 passing for 173 yards and a touchdown in his team's 24-7 win in 2012, and then went 7 of 13 for 111 yards in last season's 22-7 contest.
"(Adams) is very good. He can do a lot of things and he has a lot of experience," Howard said. "They didn't throw much the first week because they were playing in the rain, but we know they can throw."
Adams isn't afraid to use his legs either, and he has talented backs in Ernie Miszewski and Chandler Dierks at his disposal. Miszewski rushed for 119 yards and three scores on just 12 carries in Week 1. Diercks - a two-time 3A state long jump champion in track and field - is the speed guy; his number was called just six times for 30 yards a week ago.
"They can run inside and outside, they'll run the option ... it will be tough," Howard said.
The primary goal for WCHS is to improve its tackling, Howard said. The Lynx defense was gutted for 340 yards against Gilbert, many of them coming after first contact. The Tigers reached the end zone on their opening four possessions.
"The No. 1 thing is tackling and also to keep our heads up and keep battling," Howard said. "When something goes wrong all the heads can't go to the chests and that's a big deal."
Allowing the defense to get a rest is also of the utmost importance. The WCHS first-team offense was unable to move the ball with any success against Gilbert and it will most likely see an even better defense tonight.
Getting junior tailback Gavin Dinsdale more than eight carries will be key, as will limiting the number of three-and-out series.
Howard says the improvement that needs to happen on offense all begins with the big boys on the line - a group he had high hopes for in the preseason.
"Our offensive line needs to step it up ... that was a group I was hoping would be able to have a little bit of an attitude and chip on their shoulders, but we didn't do much at all at Gilbert. It will be worse (tonight) if we don't improve,"?Howard said.
WCHS will begin 3A District 2 play next week when it makes its home debut against Carroll.