HUMBOLDT – A power running team out of the I-formation in past years, 10th-ranked Humboldt had no intention of sticking with old faithful Friday night at Mason Maach Field.
The Wildcats opted the take the Ferrari out of the garage for a night and go for a spin. And what a joyride it was.
With a seemingly limitless supply of talented receivers at his beck and call, sophomore southpaw quarterback Drew Thomas – the son of Humboldt head coach Greg Thomas – conducted a clinic in passing precision while working out of the shotgun and his aerial assault propelled the Wildcats to a 42-14 spanking of Webster City in Class 3A District 2 play.
Thomas, a first-year starter, completed 21 of 33 passes for 409 yards and six touchdowns. Four different receivers reeled in TD grabs; speedy senior Jaxon Heinz was on the other end of nine throws that covered 208 yards and his theme song – Johnny Cash’s Jackson – blared over the loudspeaker after each of his three touchdowns. Tony Nielsen rolled up 104 receiving yards and scored once on a screen pass that he turned into an 81-yard sprint, Austin Zylstra made seven catches for 81 yards and one TD, and Christian Birdsell produced the final dagger with a fourth-quarter TD reception.
“I was getting all day from my line up front and the wide receivers just kept making plays,” Drew Thomas said of his career-defining game to date. “We knew last year they stuffed the run pretty good and we knew they were going to try to load the box, so we just had to make plays.”
WCHS (2-5, 1-3) was the more physical team on both sides of the ball, out-rushed Humboldt 305-34 and owned a 9-minute, 12-second advantage in time of possession … and lost by 28 points.
Welcome to Football: The Next Generation, where teams turn games into 7-on-7 drills and traditional running attacks are shucked to the side.
“We knew we were going to have to throw the ball to move it on them,” Greg Thomas said. “(Drew) watched a lot of film this week and he and I were on the same page on what we thought we’d get for coverages. He’s fortunate to have some tremendous weapons all across the field, and then we got great protection, so he was just a small part of what we had going on.”
The Lynx stuffed all-state running back Brady Ross on his few touches; he finished with just 14 yards on eight carries. But Humboldt (6-1, 4-1) used him as a decoy more than anything else.
“They were a lot better than we were obviously. They made plays and we couldn’t, and that was the ballgame,” WCHS head coach Bob Howard said.
Big passing performances has been a common theme in all five of the Lynx losses where they’ve allowed 198.4 yards on average. Thomas became the third signal caller to throw for at least 170 yards.
“(Drew Thomas) threw for a lot of yards, but everybody has thrown for a lot of yards on us,” Howard said. “I’m glad he doesn’t have that set of receivers for the next two years because they’re a tough match-up for anybody, but he deserves a lot of credit.”
Tailback Gavin Dinsdale bulled his way to 146 rushing yards and both WCHS touchdowns on 34 tough carries. An 11-yard run to the outside in the second quarter put him over 1,000 for the season.
“Gavin is a tremendous football player and anybody in Iowa would take him,” Greg Thomas said. “He’s just a workhorse.”
Dinsdale finished off an 82-yard drive that consumed more than 7 minutes with a 16-yard run to the house that tied the game at 14 with 1:10 left in the first half. Knowing it would receive the opening kickoff in the third quarter, WCHS just needed one defensive stand to take the momentum into the break.
Drew Thomas said forget it.
Thomas completed 6 of 8 throws – one of the incompletions was an intentional spike to stop the clock – that covered nearly all of the 64 yards on the ensuing drive, and he capped it with a perfectly-placed fade pattern in the left corner of the end zone to Zylstra for a 3-yard touchdown with just 7 ticks left on the clock.
It gave Humboldt a 21-14 edge and sapped the WCHS secondary of any and all confidence it possessed.
“That was a big momentum shift for us going into the half and I think it helped set the tone,” Drew Thomas said of the quick scoring drive.
WCHS turned the ball over on its opening two possession of the third quarter and Thomas made the Lynx pay with touchdown strikes of 5 and 78 yards, both to Heinz, that gave the Wildcats an insurmountable 35-14 cushion.
Bringing sometimes nine men down near the line of scrimmage, Humboldt limited the Lynx to just 106 yards of offense in the second half. Dinsdale was bottled up after chewing up 110 yards over the opening 24 minutes.
“Our defense played really awesome in the second half,” Drew Thomas said.
WCHS wingback Domenic Khaleet churned out 100 ground yards on 10 carries; 64 of his yards came on a counter on the Lynx opening drive of the game and it set up a 1-yard rumble across the goal line by Dinsdale to give WCHS an early 7-0 lead.
Spinback Avery Fuhs completed just 3 of 6 passes – all to twin brother Alec Fuhs – for 16 yards, and he was intercepted twice.
Dinsdale also led the Lynx defense with six solo tackles, two resulting in a loss.