No. 6 Lynx have their work cut out for them against No. 5 Norwalk

WEBSTER CITY – Sixth-ranked Webster City has been down this road before.

Written off. Doubted. Cast aside. Forgotten quickly despite what has been accomplished over the last two months.

But here’s the interesting part: that’s fine with head coach Bob Howard and his players. Chuckle if you want to, but the Lynx (8-1) will only use that as motivation as they prepare to take the field as an underdog tonight against fifth-ranked Norwalk (8-1) in a Class 3A first-round playoff battle at 7 p.m.

“Whoever we play, that’s what it is,” Howard said when asked about being an underdog. “We’re probably beyond that now, but there’s no doubt that (tonight) is going to be a big challenge.”

WCHS will host the contest at Lynx Field on the strength of its second straight District 2 championship. Norwalk was the runner-up in District 6 behind only two-time defending state champion and top-ranked Pella (9-0).

Arguably the most intriguing first-round match-up, Norwalk will trot out first-team all-state quarterback Brady Brandsfield – one of the most decorated signal callers in state history – to direct the No. 1-ranked passing offense in the class. WCHS will counter with the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in 3A.

The pass versus the run. Speed versus brute strength.

Yeah, this should be fun.

“They’re very good, there’s no doubt about that,” Howard said of the Warriors. “They run well enough to make you have to play the run and when they pass, whoever is open, (Brandsfield) finds them.”

A four-year starter under center in Norwalk’s spread system, Brandsfield ranks second all-time in 11-player football with 8,800 career passing yards, just 346 behind the record of 9,146 yards, held by Tyler Jones of Cherokee.

Brandsfield has churned out 11,163 total yards (passing and rushing), and he’s the only player in 11-man history to surpass 10,000. His 666 career completions ranks second all-time, while he’s third in touchdown passes with 91.

In other words, the WCHS defense has a stiff challenge on its hands.

“He’s good and he’s got four years of experience running their offense,” Howard said of Brandsfield, who has passed for 2,141 yards and 23 touchdowns against just five interceptions this season.

But is Brandsfield healthy? He was forced out of Norwalk’s only loss – a 38-0 beating at the hands of Pella on Oct. 7 – with a shoulder injury. He also left the Warriors’ Week 9 win over Carlisle with an ankle injury.

Howard has heard all of the Brandsfield injury rumors. But he says he’ll be surprised if Brandsfield isn’t on the field.

This won’t be the first time that the Lynx have faced an imposing passing attack. They just tackled Boone (7-2) last week and limited all-state quarterback Tanner Schminke to 10 of 28 completions.

“I think the Boone game prepared us as well as we could be prepared for this one,” Howard said. “Schminke doesn’t have the stats that Brandsfield has, but Schminke is very good also. Our secondary held up well against Boone.”

The best WCHS defense will be its offense. The simple truth is the longer that the Lynx can keep Brandsfield and his talented array of wide receivers watching from the sideline, the better their chances will be of advancing to the quarterfinals for the second straight year.

“That’s always going to be true,” Howard said. “But if you’re going to do what we do, you’ve got to score at the end of those long drives. And on those seven- or eight-minute drives, you have to play without penalties and without fumbles. Most of the time we’ve been able to do that this year.”

WCHS is the only 3A team to have surpassed 3,000 yards rushing during the regular season. A big and physical offensive line, as well as a host of capable runners have allowed the team to score nearly 40 points per game.

Senior tailback Robert Frederiksen has compiled 1,471 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns. Wingback Payton Kannuan (755 yards) averages 9.6 yards per carry, and spinback Drew Fielder (572 yards) has only gotten better as the season has progressed.

What defensive strategy Norwalk will use isn’t clear. Will the Warriors stack nine or 10 guys in the box like Boone did to stop the run, or will they sit back in a base defense, confident they can simply overpower the Lynx?

“I would guess that they’ll start with their base stuff and play what they know,” Howard said. “But they could try to do what Boone did.”

The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of the first-round clash between eighth-ranked Creston/Orient-Macksburg (8-1) and Boone (7-2). A WCHS victory would give it another home game in the quarterfinals next week.

This is the ninth consecutive year that the Lynx have qualified for the playoffs under Howard, a feat that is to be applauded regardless of tonight’s outcome.

“It’s a very big accomplishment for the kids to do that nine years in a row,” Howard said. “You’d like to go farther every year, but we’ve raised the bar around here a little bit. We’re very proud of that.”