Pella has Lynx number again in 3A state playoffs

A dejected Caleb Olson, Webster City’s junior starting middle linebacker, takes one knee on the field following Webster City’s 27-7 loss to Pella in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs in Pella on Friday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

PELLA — Making tackle after tackle was the easy part. It was reigning in his emotions as he talked about his senior teammates that gave Webster City junior linebacker Caleb Olson fits as the wind howled around him late Friday night.

One last bus ride home.

Olson said it twice, almost as if he didn’t believe it and needed to hear it again for validation. But as the tears escaped his eyes, Olson grasped the reality of the situation.

It was over.

“It’s been fun, but good things come to an end,” Olson nearly whispered just before he retreated to the warmth of the team’s locker room following ninth-ranked Webster City’s 27-7 loss to fifth-ranked Pella in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. “One last bus ride home with them … it’s going to be tough because these guys have worked so hard, it’s just hard to see them go.”

Lynx senior Zane Williams hauls in one of his three receptions against Pella on Friday in Pella. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

For the14 seniors on the roster, some who have been varsity contributors for three years and one, all-state lineman Cooper Lawson who has been in the starting lineup since his freshman season, it was a bitter end to what has been a fantastic ride. WCHS (8-2) compiled a 30-5 record over the last three years.

“They worked very hard for this and they should be very proud of the commitment they put in,” WCHS head coach Bob Howard said of his senior class. “You don’t replace a Cooper Lawson or a James Cherry or a Zane Williams.”

Pella (9-1) sent the Lynx home in disappointment for the second straight postseason. The three-time defending state champion Dutch knocked off WCHS in last fall’s state final, 28-18, and pushed its playoff winning streak to 15 games on Friday.

Pella running back Avery VanZee accounted for 172 yards of total offense — 88 rushing and 74 receiving — and scored a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Gustafson completed 8 of 15 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Gustafson also picked up 31 key ground yards on scrambles that kept drives alive.

Without Olson, WCHS would have been in worse shape. The all-state player had 10 tackles in the first half that helped limit Pella’s lead to just a touchdown, 7-0, and finished with 151⁄2 total tackles, including 14 solo stops.

Webster City seniors James Cherry (left) and Hunter Hayes (44) console one another following the Lynx 27-7 loss to Pella in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs Friday night in Pella. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“He had a great game,” Howard said of Olson. “He moves well and he has good lateral movement for a linebacker, and he makes the most of it.”

But too many times, the Lynx defense was unable to get off the field on third down. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Pella converted on third-and-7 twice for first downs on a 7-yard pass from Gustafson to Sam Warner and a 12-yard scramble by Gustafson. It led to a 32-yard strike from Gustafson to VanZee to push the ball deep into WCHS territory. A few plays later, Gustafson rolled out to his left and rifled a strike to Lucas Warner for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Dutch a 13-0 lead.

“We had to make stops on a couple of those if we wanted to have a chance,” Olson said of Pella’s 11-play, 69-yard drive that ate 4:08 off the clock. “Coming in here, we knew it was going to be tough and it didn’t go our way.”

Eventually, the Lynx defense ran out of gas and that allowed the Dutch to tack on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Another Gustafson to VanZee aerial strike, this one for 25 yards on fourth-and-3 from the WCHS 31, set up a VanZee 6-yard rumble into the end zone. Bruising back Reece Schnell carried the entire load later in the quarter and capped a 48-yard drive with a 1-yard burst through the middle to make it 27-0.

Pella held the ball for 15:09 in the second half and ran 12 more play than the Lynx overall, 55-43.

An excited Cade Felts races off the field following his first-half interception against Pella during Friday’s first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“Our kids did a nice job of hanging in there as long as they did, but they’re very good,” Howard said. “It’s very cliche, but playmakers make plays and they’ve got a lot of playmakers. That’s to their credit.”

VanZee put Pella in front to stay with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter when he kept the ball on a read option and danced his way through traffic for a 36-yard touchdown scamper.

Meanwhile, the WCHS offense was stuck in neutral from the opening kickoff. Pella limited the Lynx to 110 yards rushing, tying their season low in their only other loss, a 20-0 shutout against second-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes.

Their greatest offensive success came late in the second quarter when spinback Dylan Steen connected with Zane Williams and Drake Doolittle on passes to push the ball into Pella territory.

In the second half, WCHS had three series that went three-and-out and it was also stuffed on a fourth-and-1 play from its own 33.

The Webster City seniors hoist the trophy they were given for making the Class 3A state playoffs for the 10th consecutive season following Friday’s 27-7 loss to Pella in Pella. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“We couldn’t do anything between the tackles and that takes away all of the counter game and Steen, and that doesn’t leave very much,” Howard said after WCHS mustered just 163 yards of total offense. “We didn’t do a good job between the tackles at all of cutting off penetration and just basic down blocking.”

Williams finished with 80 yards rushing on 26 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds remaining. Williams put WCHS in position to score with a 68-yard kickoff return and then toted the ball on five consecutive plays into the end zone.

Steen was 4 of 6 passing for 53 yards and added 26 yards on the ground. Williams caught three passes for 37 yards, Doolittle one for 16.

Luke Rohmiller, another of the seniors, added seven solo tackles and 71⁄2 total stops in the loss. Cade Felts came up with the Lynx only turnover when he intercepted Gustafson on a pass over the middle in the first half.

Lawson capped his brilliant career with 21⁄2 tackles and one memorable compliment from his coach.

“Cooper Lawson is a once every 10 or 20 years lineman,” Howard said. “He’s as good a high school lineman as I’ve had and, to me, that’s saying something because I’ve had some good ones.”

WCHS was in the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.

Pella advances to face Dallas Center-Grimes (10-0) in the quarterfinals Friday night in Grimes. It will be a rematch of a Week 2 game won by the Mustangs, 10-7, that ended Pella’s 42-game winning streak.