QUITE THE TURNAROUND
What happened at halftime against W-SR?
WEBSTER CITY — It was a month ago, so Bob Howard can’t recall the exact words that escaped his mouth as his players surrounded him at halftime during a Week 3 game against Waverly-Shell Rock.
There were no profound messages though, he knows that. But whatever he said, well, worked. A lot.
Sitting at 1-1 and trailing the Go-Hawks 24-7 at the half on Sept. 10, WCHS had one of those watershed moments. The Lynx could tuck tail and run, or they could puff out their chests and fight.
They chose the latter. And over the course of those 24 second-half minutes against the Go-Hawks, everything changed.
“I don’t remember specifically what I said and I don’t think it was any one certain sentence,” Howard said. “We were just learning how to play against good competition and that second half was kind of a springboard where they figured out, yeah, we can play at that level. The idea of handling adversity a little bit and growing from it and that’s what they did that night. It led to what we’ve done since.”
WCHS (5-2, 3-0 District 1) played Waverly-Shell Rock to a 7-7 draw in the second half and then took off. Over the last 41⁄2 games — the second half against the Go-Hawks, plus the last four outings — the Lynx have outscored their opponents 155-60 and vaulted themselves back into the Class 4A Top 10. They’ve put themselves in a pretty enviable position too, needing to only beat winless Storm Lake (0-7, 0-3 District 1) tonight to wrap up a second straight district championship.
“It’s awesome,” Howard said. “From where we were five weeks ago to where we are now because there was a pretty big thud with people jumping off the bandwagon that I suppose now are tying to jump back on.
“It’s always a big accomplishment to win the district. To win a 4A district, the first time we’re in 4A and we’re by far the smallest school in the district, I’ll be very happy for those kids if we can do it.”
A mean, physical, fast and stingy defense has played a pivotal role in the turnaround. No. 10-ranked WCHS has allowed nearly 50 yards fewer per half since the intermission ended against Waverly-Shell Rock and last week the unit limited Spencer to just 97 total yards in a 21-7 victory.
Even the game against the Go-Hawks is significant. In the first half, WCHS gave up 261 yards. And in the second half? Just 68.
It’s not a coincidence.
“Defensively we’ve really gotten better,” Howard said. “We have to keep improving because we’re so out-matched size-wise against just about everybody. Now, we do have speed. But, boy, the size and depth have been a challenge all year.”
Sophomore linebacker Jaxon Cherry (371⁄2 tackles) and senior linebacker/safety Devon Stoakes (35 tackles) lead the defense. Austin Mason and CJ Hisler, both juniors, have two interceptions each.
Tonight’s contest against Storm Lake will kickoff at 7 p.m., and there’s a better than decent chance it moves at a quick pace. Due to injuries and defections, the Tornadoes have seen their varsity roster dwindle down to nearly 20 players.
Following a 42-0 loss to Fort Dodge last Friday, Storm Lake held a team meeting on Tuesday to decide if it would even play this week or simply forfeit to WCHS. The Tornadoes opted to play, which has earned the respect of Howard.
“It was very close to not happening I think,” Howard said of tonight’s game. “Their coach (Rudy Wieck) really wanted to play and I really respect that. We’re going to be as respectful to them while trying to play as well as we can for however long that we’re on the field.”
Howard said Storm Lake has received permission from the Iowa High School Athletic Association to make some tweaks if the game gets out of hand. A running clock could be implemented prior to a 35-point difference and quarters could also be cut down from 12 minutes.
Of course, all of that depends on what transpires during the game. If WCHS doesn’t play well and allows Storm Lake to hang around, then the changes won’t be implemented.
Howard says the demeanor and goals of his players won’t change.
“As soon as you’re not playing hard, somebody is going to get hurt, and that’s disrespectful to the opponent,” he said. “You’ve got to score your first touchdown before you worry about anything else, but it’s not going to be a big out of hand deal on our part.”
WCHS enters tonight’s game with four players — Hisler, Cherry, Ty McKinney and Connor Hanson — who have rushed for between 310 and 580 yards. The Lynx rank fourth in 4A in rushing yards with 1,823.
WCHS will wrap up the regular season next week at Denison-Schleswig, then it will be on to the postseason for the 12th time in the past 14 seasons. The Lynx reached the state quarterfinals in 2020.
WCHS (5-2, 3-0) at Storm Lake (0-7, 0-3)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: Webster City won, 42-0, on Oct. 25, 2013.
Notes: WCHS, ranked No. 10 in Class 4A this week, can wrap up the District 1 title with a win tonight … Storm Lake has been outscored 82-0 in its last two games and 118-14 by District 1 foes.