Webster City plays for first-ever 3A title

Photo by Troy Banning, for The Messenger The Webster City defense makes a gang tackle against Glenwood in a Class 3A semifinal at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.

CEDAR FALLS — Webster City would be in trouble if this was a three-game series. A five- or seven-game series? Forget it. Pack up the balls and helmets and head for home.

But that’s not how it works on the football field. It’s one game, winner take all. And there’s no second chance to leave a first impression.

Sixth-ranked Webster City (11-1) understands what it will be up against tonight when it collides with top-ranked Pella (12-0) at 7:06 p.m. on Thursday in the Class 3A state title game inside the UNI-Dome.

Winners of back-to-back crowns, the Dutch own the advantage in nearly every statistical category. They’ve won a state-leading 40 consecutive games and only once this year have they failed to score at least 34 points.

That’s what WCHS is up against in its first ever trip to the state finals. Can the Lynx pull the upset? Of course they can. But it’s going to take the perfect storm.

“If we played the game on paper, they win,” said WCHS head coach Bob Howard, who is 3-0 in state championship games in his career. “They are extremely talented … they’ve won 40 straight games for a reason.

“We have to make sure that we play as well as we can play. That’s what it’s going to take and that’s what it should take.”

The popular opinion among Internet message board posters is that the true “state championship” was last week, when Pella scored on the final play of the game to take down second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier, 34-30, in the semifinals.

It’s going to be a blowout. Pella in a rout. Those sentiments and more can be found with just a few clicks of the mouse. But WCHS has heard it all year and it’s not going to start bothering the coaches and players now.

“We got a lot of it throughout the season about how we weren’t going to win the district championship and we kept proving everybody wrong. I feel like we can prove them all wrong one more time,” WCHS senior tailback Robert Frederiksen, who takes 1,793 yards and 21 touchdowns into his final prep game, said. “We absolutely can win, but we have to play the best game we’ve ever played.”

It’s not the statistical differences that necessarily concern Howard. It’s the clear edge in athleticism that the Dutch possess that is worrisome.

Pella wide receivers Donovan Holterhaus and Ryan Van Wyk both stand 6-foot-5, and they’ve combined for 1,894 yards receiving and 22 touchdown catches. Throwing to them is arguably the most well-rounded and talented quarterback in 3A in Nick Finney, who has passed for 2,478 yards and 30 TD’s and rushed for 1,040 more yards and another 14 TD’s. Finney’s 3,665 total yards from scrimmage leads 3A by nearly 800 yards.

“He passes well and he has people to pass to, and he also scrambles real well if you don’t get pressure on him,” WCHS senior spinback and linebacker Drew Fielder said. “We’re just going to try to contain him and when we blitz we’ve got to get there.”

As good as Pella is at vertically moving the ball down the field, WCHS will concentrate on containing the Dutch running game first.

“If we aren’t stopping the run, then they’ve completely got us at their mercy,” Howard, who will attempt to become just the fourth coach in state history to guide two programs to a title, said. “If we make them pass, at least the ball’s going to be in the air and we’ve got a chance.”

WCHS, which owns the third-ranked defense in the class and allows just over 11 points per game, has surrendered 100 or more yards to just one individual rusher this season.

Zane Carter, a senior cornerback for the Lynx, has taken on the challenge of facing the opponent’s top receiver all season and he’ll likely be assigned to Holterhaus tonight.

“I look at him as just another receiver,” Carter said. “I’m going to go out there and do my best and if they make a nice catch, I just have to shake it off and make the next play.”

Keeping the game close and low scoring will both benefit WCHS. The Lynx hope to grind out long drives in an attempt to catch the Dutch defense napping. But they also have to finish drives, something they struggled to do in last week’s 6-3 semifinal win over Glenwood.

“We’ve run the ball against good defenses this year and this will be the best one we’ve faced,” Fielder, who has rushed for 801 yards and nine touchdowns, said. “But I think we’ll be able to move the ball, we’ve just got to finish.”

As good as Pella’s offense is, it may be even better defensively. The Dutch allow just over 8 points per game, tops in the class.

“Pella will be a huge — literally — challenge because of the length and speed,” Howard said. “But at the same time, nobody on film that we’ve watched is anything like we are on offense.”

Throw in the 915 yards and nine TD’s on the ground for Payton Kannuan and the Lynx own the top-ranked rushing offense in the class with 4,136 yards. In other words, they’re not exactly pushovers.

“We’re going to run at them. It isn’t going to be easy, but hopefully we give them something they haven’t watched,” Howard said. “It’s still going to come down to can we block them? Blocking the second level and staying with blocks is going to be a real important issue in this game.”

When the final horn goes off, whether the Lynx are handed the championship trophy or the one that goes to the runner-up, they just want to make a good showing. For a program that was born in 1896, this first finals experience has been a long time coming.

“It’s awesome and we’re just really excited,” WCHS senior linebacker James Van Diest said. “It’s been this is just the next game all year and that mindset has helped us really well so far. This is the last game and everyone is going to go all out.”

This quest started nearly a year ago and officially got underway with a Week 1 win over Humboldt back in August. Nothing has been easy so far, but nothing has really fazed the Lynx, either.

“I think our kids are pretty relaxed and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of stress with this,” Howard said. “But this is a big deal and it should be a big deal. It’s great for them and great for the community.”

It only takes one win. And beating the team everyone says can’t be beat would only make it sweeter.

“(The players are) tired of hearing about Pella. They’re tired of hearing that we don’t have a chance,” Howard said. “We’re going to go play. If we don’t beat them, we don’t beat them. The world isn’t going to revolve around whether we win or lose, but we certainly want to go over there and represent ourselves the best we can.”