WEBSTER CITY – This began last December in the weight room with dedication and camaraderie, and it continued in April with a promise to one another during offseason meetings.
Win or lose, they were going to do it together. They were going to block out the good and bad, and stay true to their goals.
Was all of that possible? Sure. Was all of that probable? Well …
And yet here they are in November still playing and now only two wins away from a Class 3A state championship, a thought that wasn’t in this galaxy following a Week 3 lesson learned in a 31-25 loss to Gilbert.
Sixth-ranked Webster City (10-1), the winners of eight consecutive games and the aforementioned dreamers back in December and then April, will attempt to keep the run alive this evening when it clashes with 10th-ranked Glenwood (9-2) in a 3A state semifinal game inside the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Kickoff is set for 5:36 p.m.
It will be the 11th team that Lynx head coach Bob Howard has taken to the semifinal round. Did he see this coming from a team that returned just a handful of starters? Yes and no.
“You envision what you could be and in our meetings in April we thought of competing for the district championship,” WCHS head coach Bob Howard said. “Did I think there was a great chance? Probably not, but I thought that could be our goal if the kids committed and things fell right. Did I picture being in the (state) semifinals? No, but I’ve only had two or three teams that I’ve thought were semifinal teams.
“The ability to focus and ignore the noise of the chatter and social media and all the stuff, that has really been a big deal. This team has really been as good as any team I’ve ever had at doing it.”
That’s why there wasn’t a lot of celebrating following Friday’s 21-19 victory over Boone in the quarterfinals. It’s why not 10 minutes after the scoreboard hit all zeroes the players were already looking ahead.
“This is just like a normal week for us,” senior wide receiver and cornerback Zane Carter said. “We’ll practice hard and when the time comes (this evening) we’ll give it our best shot.”
Just like in the recent win over the Toreadors, or the first-round victory over No. 5 Norwalk, 33-14, nothing will come easy for the Lynx against a Glenwood team that earned its trip to the dome by bouncing third-ranked and previously unbeaten Carroll out of the postseason, 30-27, in the quarters. The Rams earned a wild card berth into the playoffs and have proved they earned it every step of the way.
“They’re a very impressive looking team,” Howard said. “But when you get to this point, there aren’t any weak teams left.”
WCHS and Glenwood are both top-five teams in total offense in 3A and top-10 defensive teams. The Lynx have surrendered more than 20 points just once this season.
What will be featured on the turf are two throwback offensive schemes that are run efficiently and with precision. The Lynx single-wing system has translated into a 3A-best 3,919 yards rushing, 802 more than No. 2 Creston/Orient-Macksburg. Glenwood’s veer offense features a balanced output in terms of running (2,758 yards) and passing (1,618 yards).
WCHS will rely on its three-headed backfield monster of tailback Robert Frederiksen (1,692 yards, 21 touchdowns), wingback Payton Kannuan (853 yards, 9 TD’s) and spinback Drew Fielder (736 yards, 8 TD’s), as well as one of the top offensive lines in the class, which is led by all-state junior guard Cooper Lawson.
Glenwood’s ability to win at the line of scrimmage and flow to the ball will be key.
“From the eye test, they certainly look good,” Howard said. “But I think there are some things we can do to negate some of their advantages and, of course, they’re going to try to do the same thing.”
Glenwood, a winner of eight straight games as well, features its own set of offensive weapons, led by running back Cole Loeffelbein (1,260 yards, 19 TD’s), a 6-foot-2, 190-pound bruiser that does most of his damage between the tackles. WCHS has surrendered 100 yards or more to just one ball carrier this season and the strength of the Lynx defense is in the middle with Lawson and James Cherry on the interior of the defensive line and Fielder and Caleb Olson at linebacker. But Howard says Loeffelbein and the Rams’ talented offensive line present plenty of challenges.
“This is a different scheme than we’ve seen,” Howard said. “They’ll put three kids foot to foot and get off the ball and it’s like a wall with (Loeffelbein) behind them. Either you have to get somebody through the wall or off the edge of the wall in behind it. Numbers wise, it’s a real crapshoot of how you want to try to stop it. Yeah, it kind of plays into our strengths, but the way they block we could lose James Cheery and Cooper Lawson right off the bat (with double teams). But we’re not just going to let them be doubled all night either.
“To me it’s fun trying to see if we can hold up and, with a scheme, give them enough different looks where we can get them out of rhythm.”
Glenwood’s ability to effectively throw the ball could come into play as well. Quarterback Kolten Wilwerding is a true dual-threat in the option game that the Rams will run; he’s thrown for 1,532 yards and 19 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, and rushed for 498 yards and seven more scores. Wide receiver Mavrick Decker (690 yards, 10 TD’s) is a burner that will test the Lynx secondary.
“He’s very good at running the triple option,” Howard said of Wilwerding. “And with any game, tackling is going to be huge. When you’re playing assignment football, a lot of times it’s one on one.”
Whichever team wins will be making its first trip to the championship round.
Tonight’s other semifinal will feature top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Pella (11-0) against second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier (11-0). The title game will be back at the UNI-Dome on Thursday, Nov. 17. That kickoff is scheduled for 7:06 p.m.