In a postseason that has provided limited surprises, perhaps the least surprising thing is Lena-Winslow’s presence in the Class 1A title game.
Lena-Winslow is going for its third consecutive state championship and a win would give Lena-Winslow a fourth championship trophy in the last five playoff-contested seasons.
Lena-Winslow hasn’t been pushed in any game this season, having won every game by at least 14 points. While there’s no guarantee that trend will continue Friday, this week’s opponent, Camp Point Central, clearly has its work cut out.
Camp Point Central has done solid work out of the Western Illinois Valley Conference, having reached the playoffs in the last 12 postseasons, but it has struggled to get past one of its own, Carrollton, in its quest to make deep advancements in the postseason.
Carrollton took a step back this season, failing to make the playoffs, and Camp Point Central was happy to fill the void left in the southern bracket. It was dominant in the postseason in particular, allowing just 20 points in four games.
Here’s a closer look at the two teams squaring off in the Class 1A title game, which will get underway at 10 a.m. Friday in Champaign.
Head coach: Ric Arand (233-26, 26 years)
Last title-game appearance: 2021, Won 38-25 over Carrollton
Path to state
• defeated Chicago Richards, 48-6
• defeated Oneida (ROWVA), 76-7
• defeated Fulton, 52-14
• defeated Forreston, 38-16
Gunnar Lobdell, RB/LB: We could easily list one of a number of players in this spot. Lobdell gets the nod as he’s averaged over 12 yards a carry for this high-powered offense, which has 63 touchdowns spread across a trio of 1,000-yard rushers.
Gage Dunker, RB/LB: Opponents must get the feeling that the two-way performer is everywhere. He’s the team’s leading tackler as well as being the squad’s top ball carrier in terms of carries. The kicker? Dunker is still only a junior.
Drew Streckwald, QB: Lena-Winslow rarely passes, but if it does, Streckwald picks and chooses his team’s spots almost perfectly. He’s completed nine passes on the year but seven of them have gone for touchdowns. Most importantly, the QB is the engineer in the Lena-Winslow attack and Streckwald knows how to drive this train.
• Lena-Winslow averaged 51.5 points per game this season.
• The Panthers have won 14 consecutive postseason contests and 22 of their last 23. Since 2016, Lena-WInslow is 24-2 with its only losses coming at the hands of Forreston (2016 quarterfinals and 2018 semifinals).
• Lena-Winslow has punted just nine times this season.
Lena-Winslow is striving to be the first program since Carthage to win three consecutive state titles in Class 1A (1998-2000). The Panthers have established themselves as the gold standard for small-school football in recent seasons and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Panthers hoist the big trophy once again.
Camp Point Central (13-0)
Head coach: Brad Dixon (111-24, 12 years)
Last State Title Game Appearance: 2018, lost 44-6 to Forreston
Path to state
• defeated Dupo, 66-0
• defeated Sesser-Valier, 24-0
• defeated Greenfield, 24-12
• defeated Ridgeview, 44-8
Isaac Genenbacher, RB/LB: Camp Point Central spreads the wealth on offense with three backs posting 750 or more rushing yards. But when it needs big yardage that task usually falls to Issac Genenbacher, who is just under 1,000 yards rushing on the season and accounts for nearly half of the team’s pass receptions.
Elijah Genenbacher, OL/LB: There’s a bit of a youth movement on the Camp Point Central defense as just five seniors dot the defensive starter. Leading that youth movement is this sophomore, who has netted a whopping 140 tackles on the season.
Kadin Niekamp, DL: It has been a quick adaptation to the varsity game for Niekamp, who is just a freshman. Niekamp recorded a whopping 21 tackles for loss and led the team with seven quarterback sacks.
• Five different Camp Point Central ball carriers have amassed at least 350 yards rushing.
• Camp Point Central lives in opponents’ backfields. Its top five tacklers have combined for 56 tackles for loss.
• The third quarter is a terrible time for Camp Point Central opponents. It has allowed only allowed one touchdown in the frame all season.
Camp Point Central enters the game as the underdog as most opponents of NUIC squads in Class 1A finals usually do. But the Panthers won’t defer and have to like the way they are playing heading into the finals after a resounding defeat of a previously undefeated Ridgeview squad in the semifinals. It will take an impressive and top-notch effort but it is one Camp Point Central might be able to give.