IT’S TRACE’S TIME
Kepler smooth at tailback, churns out 162 yards in Lynx win over Gilbert
GILBERT — Trace Kepler has had to be patient, something that is easier said than done for a running back who wants nothing more than to carry the ball until he can no longer move.
But the shackles have been removed. Finally free, he galloped all the way into the spotlight Friday night.
Stuck behind all-state tailbacks Robert Frederiksen and Zane Williams the past two seasons, Kepler took his rightful spot alongside spinback Dylan Steen and bruised the Gilbert defense to the tune of 162 yards and a touchdown in Webster City’s 14-6 season-opening victory at Tiger Stadium.
Kepler had never lugged the ball more than 11 times in a game prior to Friday. Heck, he had that just a couple minutes into the second quarter and rushed 20 times in the first half alone. He finished with 38 carries and a look of satisfaction on his face.
“You really couldn’t ask for anything more,” Kepler said. “We were able to move the ball and we were able to milk the clock, too.”
Smooth between the tackles and punishing when he reached the open field, Kepler had eight rushes of 7 or more yards and four of 10 or more. More importantly, he moved the chains without putting the ball on the turf.
“I thought we had one, but now I know we have a tailback,” WCHS head coach Bob Howard said. “Trace ran hard and he’ll break runs. He was really close a couple of times.”
Howard collected career victory No. 331, which leaves him just one behind former Pekin head coach Tom Stone for eighth place on the state’s all-time wins list. The two were longtime rivals during Howard’s storied tenure at Sigourney-Keota.
WCHS, which was the only member of Class 3A District 2 to win its opener, churned out 317 yards of total offense, 303 coming on the ground. Steen put the ball in the air just twice; he completed one pass to Henry Hoversten for 14 yards.
Garrett Whitmore ripped off 63 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. Steen amassed 44 yards with his legs and Drake Doolittle finished with 34.
The potent ground game allowed WCHS to build up a nearly 11-minute time of possession advantage. It was a more than seven-minute edge in the first half when the Lynx amassed a 14-0 cushion.
“With the RPI, that was a really big win because you’ve got to win them all,” Howard said. “And with a lot of inexperienced kids, it was a really good night.”
Kepler put WCHS in front to stay with 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter when he bowled his way into the end zone from 7 yards out to cap a 13-play, 66-yard drive. He put up 89 yards during the game’s initial 24 minutes.
Whitmore gave the Lynx a two-TD edge with just 14 ticks left in the first half. On fourth-and-1 from the Tigers’ 21, he took a reverse around the left end and turned on the jets to reach the pylon just before taking a shot from Gilbert’s Tucker Hanson.
“Garrett is a game-breaker and we’ve got to get him on the field because he’s got wheels,” Howard said. “The reverse, we haven’t practiced that with him ever. But he’s a really sharp kid and it’s easy for him to visualize things.”
But the lead probably should have been larger. WCHS turned the ball over on downs at the Gilbert 6 earlier in the second quarter, and in the third again was stopped on fourth down at the Tigers’ 13.
“We just couldn’t finish,” WCHS fullback and linebacker Caleb Olson said. “It’s a killer. You get down there inside the 10 and you want to punch it in really bad.”
But 14 points were enough for the Lynx defense, which limited Gilbert to 75 yards rushing and 181 in all.
Olson and fellow linebacker Trey Mathis, just a sophomore, were pivotal.
Olson put his hat in on six first-half tackles and finished with 7 1⁄2. Mathis took over in the second half and collected a game-high 10 1⁄2 stops, including nine solo tackles and a sack, which cost Gilbert 17 yards when it was nearing the red zone in the third quarter.
“I was scared in the first (half) because I didn’t want to make any mistakes, but as the game went on I started making better reads,” Mathis said. “(The sack) is the first one I’ve ever had, so I felt pretty good about that. I just wanted to hit the quarterback and make sure he didn’t throw it.”
Olson, a three-year starter and two-time all-state linebacker, including when he was a sophomore for the 2016 state runner-up team, says Mathis will only get better.
“He’s further along than I was as a sophomore,” Olson said. “He works hard and he’s really good.”
Whitmore, Hunter Collicott and Carsen Johnson also sacked Tigers’ signal caller Matt Barragy, and Malachi Montes made an acrobatic interception on the final play of the game — a desperation heave by Barragy near midfield.
Whitmore dropped Barragy for a 10-yard loss on the play following Mathis’s sack. Gilbert went from first-and-10 at the WCHS 21 to a punt from midfield that quickly.
“I thought the defense played fantastic,” Howard said.
Gilbert was able to move the ball in the second half, but was still out-gained 133-116 over the final 24 minutes.
The Tigers made it a one-possession game with 3:23 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard plunge by fullback Mitchell Johnson. A 35-yard completion on a wheel route from Barragy to Landon Howard, followed by an unsportsmanlike penalty on WCHS, set up the score.
Gilbert attempted an onside kick moments later, but Montes was able to recover it and the Lynx then chewed 3:22 off the clock before giving the ball back to the Tigers with one second remaining.
“It was a good all-around defensive game,” Olson said. “They had a few good plays, but we had our offense’s back.”
Barragy completed 6 of 17 passes for 106 yards. Hanson led the Gilbert ground game with 56 yards on 17 carries.
Montes also made six tackles and Alex Ford tallied four.
Webster City 7 7 0 0 — 14
Gilbert 0 0 0 6 — 6
WC — Trace Kepler 7 run (Nathan Ferrell kick), 0:14.
WC – Garrett Whitmore 21 run (Ferrell kick), 0:56.
GIL — Mitchell Johnson 2 run (pass failed), 3:23.
First downs 17 12
Rushing 15 9
Passing 1 3
Penalty 1 0
Rushes-yards 61-303 33-75
Passing yards 14 106
Comp-Att-INT 1-2-0 6-17-1
Return yards 41 21
Sacked-yards lost 0-0 4-49
Punts-Ave 1-45 5-34
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-20 5-30
Time of Possession 29:24 18:36
Player Att Yds TD
Trace Kepler 38 162 1
Garrett Whitmore 4 63 1
Dylan Steen 12 44 0
Drake Doolittle 7 34 0
Player Com Att Yds TD
Dylan Steen 1 2 14 0
Player Rec Yds TD
Henry Hoversten 1 14 0
Player So Ast Tot
Trey Mathis 9 3 10 1⁄2
Caleb Olson 7 1 7 1⁄2
Malachi Montes 5 2 6
Alex Ford 3 2 4
Dylan Steen 3 1 3 1⁄2
Drake Doolittle 2 1 2 1⁄2
Carsen Johnson 2 1 2 1⁄2
Cade Felts 2 0 2
Hunter Collicott 1 0 1
Garrett Whitmore 1 0 1
Carson Struchen 1 0 1
Brady Auderer 1 0 1
Henry Hoversten 0 1 1⁄2
Tyler Olson 0 1 1⁄2
Player Att Yds TD
Tucker Hanson 17 56 0
Mitchell Johnson 5 33 1
Joe Drzycimski 1 8 0
Aiden Carr 2 0 0
Matt Barragy 8 -23 0
Player Com Att Yds TD
Matt Barragy 6 17 106 0
Player Rec Yds TD
Landon Howard 3 75 0
Anthony Porter 1 13 0
Tucker Hanson 1 9 0
Jack Anderson 1 9 0