Class 1A playoffs: Lena-Winslow pulls away from Forreston in second half

Panthers to face Annawan-Wethersfield in quarterfinals, Cardinals finish 8-3

Forreston's Bryce Miller (42), Alex Schoonhaven (62) and Kaleb Sanders (22) react to a loose ball during second round action of the 1A playoffs at Lena-Winslow on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. The Cardinals fell to the Panthers 46-14.

LENA – It’s hard to play chess against an opponent who is playing Battleship.

In Saturday’s Class 1A second-round playoff game, Lena-WInslow scored direct hit after direct hit on NUIC-rival Forreston, ending the Cardinals’ season for the third straight year with a 46-14 victory.

“I’m going to miss and admire our seniors,” said Forreston head coach Keynon Janicke. “They gave it everything they had. I still think we’re a pretty good football team.”

Despite the final score, the first half was tightly contested, filled with tension and careful strategizing.

Both teams used defensive timeouts in short-yardage situations, with Forreston getting the better of Le-Win on each of the subsequent plays. Even so, the Cardinals trailed 16-6 late in the second quarter when they were stopped on fourth down in Panthers territory.

A Le-Win touchdown on the ensuing drive put Forreston in a precarious position down 22-6 and set to kick the ball away to start the second half.

“Our kids played well in the first half, but their kids did, too,” said Le-Win coach Ric Arand. “They were throwing a few different defensive fronts at us, and I don’t think we were doing a good job identifying those fronts.

“That last touchdown in the second quarter was huge.”

Cobryn Lynch was responsible for the second quarter touchdown, recording all of his 126 rushing yards and two TDs before halftime, exclusively on jet sweep runs.

Any hopes Forreston had of mounting a second half comeback similar to its 2021 regular season victory at Le-Win were dashed on the first play from scrimmage after halftime, when Gage Dunker ran off tackle for a 68-yard touchdown.

After being contained to 43 yards on 11 carries in the first half, Dunker went crazy in the third quarter, scoring three times en route to a 19-carry, 179-yard performance.

“We just weren’t where we needed to be and didn’t make the moves we needed to make,” Janicke said. “They’re a tough team, and they’re well-coached.”

Forreston’s best play throughout the game was a fullback dive to Owen Mulder, who led the Cardinals with 22 carries and 103 yards. He also recorded the team’s lone first half touchdown, a 1-yard plunge in the first quarter that brought his team within 8-6. Kaleb Sanders scored after the game was out of hand, finishing with 58 yards on 13 carries.

Forreston (8-3), the 2018 Class 1A state champions, have been a formidable force in Class 1A for more than a decade, but in recent years have had the frustrating circumstance of having an even more powerful program reside just 25 minutes away in the Panthers. Forreston did get that thrilling regular season victory two seasons ago, but the rivalry has otherwise grown one-sided.

“They’re just on a different level that we’re going to keep trying to get to,” Janicke said.

Lena-Winslow (11-0) will host Annawan-Wethersfield next week in the quarterfinal round. A-W, ranked eighth in the final Class 1A AP poll, defeated sixth-ranked Morrison 13-6 at home on Saturday.