WELL DUNNE, ELI: Grinnell QB throws for 351, No. 10 Lynx eliminated from 3A playoffs

WEBSTER CITY – Eli Dunne hasn’t quite made up his mind yet whether his college calling is on the football field or the baseball diamond.

The Grinnell senior gunslinger had no problems when it came to decision making last night in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.

First-and-10 or third-and-forever, it didn’t matter to Dunne, as he sliced and diced the Webster City defense for 351 passing yards and four touchdowns to lead his Tigers to a 34-28 victory over the Lynx.

Already a member of the exclusive seven-man fraternity of 7,000-yard career passers, Dunne lived up to his all-state billing by completing 23 of 38 passes without an interception and all of his TD tosses covered at least 20 yards.

Oh yeah, he also ran for a touchdown, which begs the question: Is there anything he can’t do?

“He’s good, probably one of the best (quarterbacks) in the history of the state of Iowa, and he’s one of the top two or three I’ve ever played against,” WCHS head coach Bob Howard said after his club took the postseason exit at the hands of Dunne and Grinnell for the second time in as many seasons. “But, God, our kids never quit and that’s what they’ve done all season.”

Dunne’s video game-like display offset the Lynx (8-2) power running game that produced an eye-popping 392 yards on 58 carries. Senior tailback Connor Larson lugged the ball 30 times for 230 yards and three scores, the last covering 31 yards to knot the game at 28 with 7:56 remaining.

Senior spinback Alex Oswald lumbered for 127 yards and a touchdown on 19 totes, highlighted by a 62-yard rumble right through the teeth of the Grinnell (6-4) defense that set up a Larson 18-yard scamper around end and to the house to make it 21-all with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter.

WCHS did exactly what it wanted on offense by controlling the clock – the Lynx held a 28:09 to 19:51 advantage in time of possession – and punishing the Tigers off tackle. Larson carried the ball 21 times in the opening half that saw the two teams trade scores to go into the intermission in a 14-14 draw.

“We did just what we wanted to do other than put the ball on the ground,” Howard said with regards to the Lynx three lost fumbles, all in the fourth quarter.

Still, even with the decided ground advantage, WCHS had no answer for Dunne and his playmaking ability in crucial situations.

Dunne threw across the field and hit Luke Hunhold on a 55-yard TD strike midway through the first quarter. After completing a pass while being hit for a first down on fourth-and-5 early in the second quarter, Dunne found slot receiver Kenny Clark wide open over the middle for a 20-yard scoring toss to give the Tigers a 14-7 edge with 10:50 remaining in the second quarter.

But just as it did much of the night, WCHS had the answer.

Following a kickoff return to midfield by Dylan Fielder, the Lynx methodically marched 50 yards in 17 plays, chewing 6 minutes off the clock, and brought it back to even on a 1-yard Larson plunge.

Dunne put his team up 21-14 on the opening possession of the third quarter on a perfectly-placed 34-yard bomb to Hunhold on fourth-and-10. He added a 1-yard dive across the line and into the end zone later in the quarter.

Clark was on the receiving end of the game-winner, as he got behind a pair of Lynx defenders and caught a Dunne laser that resulted in a 55-yard touchdown with 5:12 remaining.

“Three big plays,” Howard said, almost to himself, afterwards. “They left us five minutes, but we just couldn’t do it.”

Clark finished with six catches for 124 yards and Hunhold made four grabs that covered 104 yards.

Dunne hooked up with six different targets in all. He was sacked three times – twice by Dylan Fielder and once by Brandon Patten – but he never got rattled, not that anyone expected him to.

“(The Lynx) defensive line had a lot of pressure on me. They’re very fast and explosive off the ball … they’re a good defense,” Dunne said. “We knew it was going to be a battle and a real physical game.”

WCHS had two chances in the final five minutes to tie or jump ahead, but both drives ended on fourth-down fumbles. Neither fumble really mattered though, as both times the Lynx were stopped short of the sticks when the ball popped out.

Larson finished his career with 2,731 rushing yards, leaving him just four yards short of passing Jared Smith (2,734) for fourth on the Lynx all-time leaderboard.

“What a great kid and what a great competitor,” Howard said of Larson.

The coach also said his players should have no regrets.

“I’m proud of them,” Howard said. “This group, I don’t know what else they could have done. Everybody has to end sometime and if you can end feeling that way then there isn’t much to regret.”