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COACHING MATTERS

Howard and staff made all the right calls in win over Warriors

Webster City head football coach Bob Howard (center) checks the clock as he stands on the sideline during Friday’s Class 3A state playoff game against Sergeant Bluff-Luton at Lynx Field. Howard and his staff pushed all the right buttons and led No. 6 WCHS to a thrilling 28-21 victory over the Warriors. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Standing on the sideline at Lynx Field sometime during the fourth quarter Friday night, a thought came to my mind. It was before Sergeant Bluff-Luton made its final march down the field and before CJ Hisler leapt and plucked the ball out of the air at the 5-yard line to preserve Webster City’s 28-21 Class 3A state playoff victory.

That thought? Regardless of how this all shakes out, WCHS head coach Bob Howard has been playing chess when everyone else has been playing checkers. And so I tweeted the following: I don’t want to sound overly dramatic here because of 2016 and all ….. but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Bob Howard coach a better game. He has been masterful. He just has been.

OK, so I omitted a typo that I had in the tweet. What can I say, it was cold, I was trying to watch, write notes, take photos and tweet out updates all at the same time. Sometimes things get lost in the shuffle.

What I mistakenly left out was giving the Lynx assistant coaches the credit they deserved. Andy Brim had his defense playing at a level not previously seen. The special teams were the best they’ve been all season. Go right on down the list, it was as close to perfect as it’s been in a long time.

Had WCHS lost a heartbreaker on that final play, my opinion wouldn’t have changed. That the Lynx won — and, oh by the way, I figured out moments after the final horn that it was Howard’s 350th career victory — only magnified the moment.

WCHS assistant coach Andy Brim (left) talks with defensive end Jamin Stuhr on the sideline during the Lynx 28-21 win over Sergeant Bluff-Luton on Friday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

If you watched the game, if you truly paid attention to each play and scenario throughout what I can only describe as one of the best high school football games I’ve ever covered, then there’s no way you could disagree with me.

There’s a reason why Howard has all those wins, the sixth most in state history. There’s a reason why he’s been one of the best in his profession for 44 seasons.

He. Knows. What. He’s. Doing.

“He’s the best coach I’ve had in my life, hands down,” WCHS senior spinback Chase Rattenborg said afterward. “He has every situation covered in his head no matter what. He has a solution for every problem.”

Howard had to dig deep into his bag of tricks offensively to give WCHS a chance to pull off the victory. SB-L had the Lynx scouted well and swarmed the offensive plays that worked throughout the season. But they’d never seen the reverses, or the wide receiver pass, or a couple of the pass plays that Howard sent in at critical points in the contest.

WCHS senior Jack Van Diest points out where he was inbounds on a sliding reception during Friday’s Class 3A state playoff win over Sergeant Bluff-Luton at Lynx Field. Van Diest and the No. 6-ranked Lynx won, 28-21, to give head coach Bob Howard his 350th career victory. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

And they worked. Flawlessly.

Now, I understand that it’s one thing to call the plays and another thing entirely to execute. For that, all of the credit goes to the players. There wasn’t one guy in a Lynx helmet that played poorly Friday night, and that’s what it takes in the playoffs.

Big coaches, big players, they all step up in big moments.

Think back to that game-winning drive for a moment. Can you see it in your mind? There was just over 5 minutes left when WCHS took over at its own 20-yard line with the game deadlocked at 21.

SB-L had all — and I mean all — of the momentum. The Warriors had just rattled off 14 consecutive points and their sideline and fans were in a frenzy.

The individual plays that Howard called and the players executed were brilliant, but it’s more than that. There was no panic in the eyes and no nervous shakes in the legs. Why? Because Howard spends hour after hour mentally preparing his players for moments just like that.

Are you going to be the predator or the prey? Howard loves that saying, and Friday night his team showed which it prefers.

“We work on that year-round,” Howard said. “That mental stuff is what we spend an awful lot of time on, staying even all the time. We try to treat the good plays and bad plays pretty much the same. You just worry about the next one.”

Howard downplayed the 350 career victories, just like he tried to do when he reached No. 300 six years ago on a similar big stage — an upset win over Ballard in a 3A playoff game. But his players certainly celebrated it.

“That’s awesome and we had to do that for him,” Jack Van Diest, a senior fullback and linebacker, said. “I’m super proud to be a part of that. He’s an amazing coach and it’s amazing to be a part of a record like that.”

“When you can get that in a big game, that’s pretty cool,” Howard said after some needling for him to talk about the milestone. “There’s a lot of kids that go into that, all the way back to the ones at Scranton. It’s gratifying.”

It was just a fantastic high school football game … (and here comes the controversial part of his column) it’s just too bad more people weren’t there to see it.

Look, I understand it was cold. I understand these are uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic and some fans can’t risk the exposure of experiencing it live. And I understand that livestreams now make it easy to watch games from the comfort of one’s home.

I get it. Honestly, I do.

But it was more than a little unusual, and disappointing, that the visiting crowd looked like it doubled the Lynx home crowd. That just shouldn’t happen.

So here’s my plea, folks. Unbeaten and No. 6-ranked WCHS plays in the state quarterfinals at home against Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley Friday night. It’s supposed to be a beautiful evening in the 60s with no rain in the forecast. I may even get to unpack my shorts from storage. And if you enjoy Lynx football, if you want to reward these kids for what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last two-plus months, then grab a mask and make your way to Lynx Field.

Give WCHS the home field advantage that it’s earned and that it deserves.

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