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No. 6 Lynx face toughest test to date against SB-L

Injured during the first half against Mason City last week, Webster City all-state tailback Trey Mathis (No. 32 above) is expected to play this evening against Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the Class 3A state playoffs. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — Bob Howard isn’t one for hyperbole. He’ll tell you what he thinks, whether you like it or not, and he doesn’t beat around the bush.

So when he says that Sergeant Bluff-Luton is a threat to Webster City’s run through the postseason, you’d be obliged to take him at his word.

“They’re very good,” Howard, the Lynx Hall of Fame head coach, said. “They’re very athletic, they’re bigger than we are, and they’re very well coached.”

That’s what No. 6-ranked and unbeaten WCHS (8-0) will face this evening when it hosts SB-L (6-2) at Lynx Field in the Class 3A state playoffs Round of 16 at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to next week’s quarterfinals against either Spencer (6-2) or Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (6-2) where a spot in the Final Four will be on the line.

WCHS and SB-L aren’t totally unfamiliar with one another. They last met in 2015 during the state quarterfinals, a high-scoring affair the Warriors won, 55-35, to end an unbeaten season for the Lynx. SB-L accumulated 650 yards, including 564 on the ground, in the contest.

WCHS senior Tyler Olson moves in the open field after catching a pass during a game this season. An all-state free safety, Olson and the rest of the Lynx secondary will face a challenge tonight against the passing attack of Sergeant Bluff-Luton. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Both have been among the elite in 3A in recent years. Since 2011 — a span of 11 seasons — WCHS is 85-28 with one trip to the state championship game in 2016. And over the past six seasons, SB-L is 54-12 with a pair of state semifinal appearances, including a season ago when it went 10-2.

History will mean nothing to either team when they line up across from one another this evening. But it has crossed Howard’s mind this week as he thinks back to that meeting five years ago when he prepared his team to face a daunting passing attack, only to be gashed on the ground for 48 minutes.

WCHS will face a similar conundrum this evening. Does it gear up to slow down talented running back Kaden Helt, who has 837 yards and averages 7.4 yards per touch, or does it turn its focus on sophomore quarterback Tyler Smith, one of the premier signal callers in the class? The son of Warriors’ head coach Justin Smith, Tyler Smith has completed 71 percent of his 160 passes this season for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

“It’s pick your poison basically,” Howard said. “They can run and throw, and I think they do whatever the game dictates. The QB is the coach’s son and that’s a huge advantage because he understands the game very well. They do some (run-pass option) stuff and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

SB-L has a slew of dangerous playmakers at Smith’s disposal. Wide receivers Ashton VerDoorn and Jacob Imming have combined for 876 yards and 12 scores.

WCHS sophomore linebacker Skyler Scott (left) sacks Gilbert quarterback Tanner Henningsen during a Week 6 game in Gilbert. The Lynx defense is allowing just 11 points a game this season. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Smith is also dangerous with his feet; he’s rushed for 304 yards and six scores.

It will certainly be a challenge for a WCHS defense that has allowed more than 14 points just once this season, that coming in last week’s 41-29 win over Mason City in the second round of the postseason. The Lynx rank fifth in 3A, allowing just 11 points per game.

Howard says stopping the Warriors’ running game will be necessary for his team to prevail.

“(Stopping the run) is huge,” he said. “You have to at least have some idea of what they’re going to do because if you give them five or six yards on first down on every running play, then you’re at their mercy.”

The good news for WCHS is that senior middle linebacker and all-state tailback Trey Mathis is expected to play. Mathis exited the game against Mason City in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Howard said he was on the practice field for drills on Tuesday and should be ready to go this evening.

“He’s playing and that’s really all I can say,” Howard said.

Sophomore Connor Hanson stepped in for Mathis and thrived last week with 116 yards rushing and a touchdown, as well as 11 tackles in the middle of the defense. The return of Mathis means Hanson can return to nose tackle, where he’s an all-district talent.

“Connor Hanson, we knew he could run the football, he just hadn’t gotten to do it much,” Howard said. “Him playing both ways was a big deal and it’s nice to have some security, knowing we’ve got more than a capable second tailback.”

Mathis will be welcomed back with open arms, particularly on offense where he’s rushed for 1,176 yards and 14 touchdowns. It will not only give WCHS its leading rusher back, but also alleviate the pressure on spinback Chase Rattenborg (711 yards, nine TDs) and wingback CJ Hisler (451 yards, five TDs).

If things go according to plan, WCHS will chomp away at the clock and limit the Warriors’ high-octane offense from seeing the field as much as possible.

“The best defense is holding onto the football and then scoring at the end of the possession,” Howard said. “We need to move the football and not turn it over and not make self-inflicted mistakes that stop drives.”

WCHS and SB-L have one common opponent in Spencer. The Lynx handed Spencer a 21-7 loss in Week 1, while the Tigers knocked off SB-L, 27-24, in Week 8.

Tonight’s Game

Class 3A State Playoffs Round of 16

Sergeant Bluff-Luton (6-2) at Webster City (8-0)

Where: Lynx Field, Webster City.

Time: 7 p.m.

Streaming Online: www.longlines.com/live

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