Think No. 8 Lynx are just an offensive team? Think again

WEBSTER CITY – It was just two months ago when Bob Howard had absolutely no idea what to expect with his Webster City football team’s defense.

Could it be solid? He thought maybe. But was the unit also littered with question marks? You better believe it.

Youth and inexperience were the overwhelming concerns, and you don’t just replace a pair of first team all-state players – middle linebacker Victor Jergens and cornerback Landon Daniels – without feeling the sting.

Or so Howard thought.

Cut to the present and one thing is abundantly clear – the Lynx are so much more than a dominant offensive scheme.

While Howard’s vaunted single-wing offense continues to pack on the yards – WCHS ranks No. 1 in Class 3A in rushing (2,774) by nearly 500 yards and fifth in total offense (3,022 yards) – it’s the growth and maturity shown by a physical defense that has been the pleasant surprise.

“That was our question mark coming into the season and obviously the stock answer (as to why the defense has been so good) is the kids have played well,” Howard said in the lead-up to tonight’s Class 3A District 2 showdown at Iowa Falls-Alden at 7:30 p.m. “I don’t really know how to put my finger on it … it’s been a nice, pleasant surprise.”

Eighth-ranked WCHS (6-1, 4-1) has the sixth-best scoring defense in 3A, allowing just 11.57 points per game. Opponents average just 78.3 rushing yards and 188.7 total yards an outing, and the Lynx have held three foes to less than 100 yards of total offense.

And if you take out the one poor performance – a Week 3 31-25 loss to Gilbert where the Tigers racked up 430 yards – the numbers are even more eye-popping.

In its six wins, WCHS has given up just 47.2 yards rushing and 148.5 total yards on average. That’s what IF-A (3-4, 1-4) will have to contend with tonight. The Cadets like to run the ball with tailback Logan Ward (701 yards), but only one back has reached the century mark against the Lynx this fall.

“We’ve been pretty hard to run on and if you can be tough to run on and make teams one-dimensional, that’s key,” Howard said. “We try to put (opponents) in situations where we can rush the passer a little harder.”

It’s not like WCHS has played a bunch of sub-par teams either. Ballard and Dallas Center-Grimes were both ranked at one time this season and neither reached 250 yards of offense against the Lynx.

The run-stuffing ability begins with defensive tackle Cooper Lawson and nose tackle James Cherry, both of whom are double-team magnets, which allows linebackers Caleb Olson, James Van Diest and, in the last two games, Drew Fielder to run freely. Linebacker/safety Zane Williams has also been a spark who doesn’t miss many tackles.

“It starts up front,” Howard said. “Zane Williams has been the glue because we use him in several different ways as a safety and linebacker. He’s a sure tackler, he’s smart and he’s fast.”

Defensive ends Cole Briese and Riley Mishler have been big contributors as well, and they take some of the pressure off the Lynx secondary because of the pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks.

“Cole Briese has had a really good season and Riley Mishler really fit the bill at defensive end,” Howard said.

Cornerback Payton Kannuan gained experience a season ago, but Zane Carter is new to the lineup on the other side and Jordan Tanner, who plays plenty in place of Kannuan, wasn’t even on the team last season. At free safety is sophomore Dylan Steen, who has become a trusted safety valve.

“Right from the beginning, our secondary has done a good job,” Howard said. “There have been few kids running wide open all year and when they do catch it we’ve been sure tacklers.”

As odd as it sounds, the loss to Gilbert in the district opener has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For one, it alleviated some of the pressure and it also forced the team to grow up in a hurry.

“I don’t think you have to lose to learn how to win, but sometimes that’s almost what it takes,” Howard said. “You have to be in those situations before you learn how to make those plays.”

After that setback, the Lynx knew they had to win out if they wanted to reach the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season. And with two weeks remaining in the regular season, that fact still remains. A win over IF-A and another next week against ninth-ranked and district leader Boone (6-1, 5-0) will likely give WCHS a second straight district championship. A loss in either outing will put the team on the outside of the playoff chatter for good.