Kannuan’s stellar career comes full circle against Boone

WEBSTER CITY – Bob Howard and everyone inside the Webster City football bubble already knew what everyone else outside of the inner circle learned two years ago this week.

Back then, Payton Kannuan was a 5-foot-5, 135-pound sophomore backup wingback, one of the smallest players on the team and certainly not someone on the radar of the opposition.

That all changed in Week 9 of the 2014 regular season when he had his coming out party with 147 yards rushing – his first 100-yard performance at the varsity level – and a touchdown in a 60-42 WCHS victory.

That opponent? Boone.

And who will Kannuan and the seventh-ranked (Class 3A) Lynx (7-1, 5-1 District 2) face in tonight’s regular season finale? None other than Boone (7-1, 6-0 District 2), which enters ranked No.9 and riding a seven-game win streak.

Kannuan will certainly have the Toreadors’ attention and he’s earned every bit of respect that will be shown. He’ll take the field with 2,459 career yards – the eighth-best total in the long and illustrious history of the WCHS program – and an eye-popping average of 9.6 yards per carry.

Those numbers may surprise you. They don’t come as a shock to Howard, the Lynx head coach.

“He was good from the time he was a freshman and we always knew he was going to be very special,” Howard said. “He has a lot of natural ability, he’s very intelligent and he’s worked very hard. He’s just a tremendous football player.”

With 12 career 100-yard games under his belt, Kannuan has tortured Boone over each of the past two confrontations in a pair of WCHS victories. He’s carried the ball 24 times and averaged 10.7 yards per touch.

Tonight’s meeting carries plenty of postseason implications. Boone has already locked up a spot in the playoffs, but wants sole ownership of the district title. A WCHS win would give it back-to-back District 2 titles and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, while a loss may leave it on the outside of the postseason if Gilbert knocks off Dallas Center-Grimes.

The potential for a win-or-go-home situation could play head games with some teams, but the Lynx have had their backs against the wall ever since a Week 3 upset loss to Gilbert. They’ve answered with five consecutive blowout victories.

“We’re playing our best football of the year right now,” Howard said. “The kids have really approached it well this year and this started last December. This is what we talked about where we wanted to be with Boone coming to town for the district title.”

Can Boone slow down a juggernaut running game that ranks No. 1 in the class? That’s the key question and it’s something the Toreadors have failed to do in recent history. WCHS has rushed for 954 yards in the last two meetings.

Cue Kannuan and tailback Robert Frederiksen, who leads the district and is No. 2 in 3A with 1,353 yards. Kannuan has picked up 700 yards on the season.

Expect Boone to use the same strategy that other teams have attempted and failed this season – eight, nine or even 10 defenders in the box with very little attention paid to the passing game.

“They’re big, they’re physical and they’re fast defensively,” Howard said of Boone. “I don’t know what they’ll play … we’ll just have to wait and see where they put their numbers. If they put numbers on Robert’s side, we certainly have things we can do on the other side with Payton and then (spinback) Drew (Fielder) is running the ball well, too.”

Boone has plenty of offensive artillery as well and it starts with quarterback Tanner Schminke, who has compiled 2,071 yards of total offense – 1,180 passing and 891 rushing. In two outings under center against the Lynx, Schminke has thrown for 483 yards and four touchdowns, but he’s also been picked off five times.

“He’s a very talented quarterback,” Howard said. “The stock answer is that we want to take away the run first and make then throw. But they’ll throw whether we make them or not.”

Boone also possesses three of the top four receivers in the district in Mason Hulse (25 catches, 382 yards), Kade Morain (29 catches, 334 yards) and Jon Herrick (25 catches, 321 yards) who have combined to reel in 14 TD passes.

WCHS will counter with the third-best defense in 3A, which allows just 11 points per game.

“They’re a good football team and they’ve got three or four really good skill kids on offense,” Howard said. “But if we can take care of the ball and not make stupid penalties, I think we’ll have a pretty good shot.”

The playoff qualifiers will be released by the Iowa High School Athletic Association sometime either late tonight or early tomorrow morning. Then on Saturday at 10 a.m., the Iowa High School Sports Network will host the first-ever Football Playoff Pairings Show on a webcast that can viewed at www.ihssn.com.