CHAMPAIGN – Lena-Winslow captured its third consecutive Class 1A state championship with a 30-8 win over Camp Point Central on Friday at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.
Junior running back Gage Dunker rushed for a game-high 120 yards and three TDs on 22 carries as No. 1-seeded L-W wrapped up a perfect season and earned its sixth state title in program history – all since 2010.
Lena-Winslow (14-0) has won four of the past five 1A titles. No. 2 Central (13-1), which also was runner-up in 2018, was looking to win its first state title.
“With every title, especially with this being three in a row, I think the pressure mounts a little more,” L-W coach Ric Arand said after his team’s victory. “I’m really proud of our kids.”
Dunker had both of L-W’s touchdowns in the first half, and he set up his team’s second score of the game with an interception against Central’s Nick Moore – the game’s only turnover.
Central attempted a fake-punt pass on its opening possession, but the pass fell incomplete and L-W responded with a six-play, 49-yard drive, capped by a Dunker 1-yard run with 5:08 left in the first quarter. Jake Zeal added the 2-point run for a 8-0 lead.
Central coach Brad Dixon said his team knew it needed to take some chances in order to stay close with L-W.
He credited L-W for coming up with one of the game’s biggest stops early on the fake punt.
“We knew we had to do some things in this game and be aggressive,” Dixon said. “We weren’t going to come here and back down. ... We lined up, saw what they had, made an adjustment and just missed. No. 62 [Henry Engel] did a good job of getting to [receiver] Josh [Alford]. It was just one play that we missed early.”
On Central’s next possession, Dunker intercepted Moore on third-and-9 at L-W’s 29.
Lena-Winslow then had a 12-play, 71-yard drive, scoring on a 2-yard Dunker run with 9:03 left in the first half. Drew Streckwald found Rowen Schulz for a 2-point conversion pass to give L-W a 16-0 lead entering halftime.
Although Central held L-W senior running back Gunar Lobdell (45 yards, 16 carries) in check, it was the small chunks of yards by Dunker that proved to be the difference.
“It didn’t surprise us,” Dixon said of Dunker’s big game. “That family is a pretty special family. Coach Arand was telling me before the game he’s got a brother in eighth grade who’s bigger. ... They’re a very well-coached, well-oiled machine. They deserved the game. They took it.”
In the second half, Dunker scored his third touchdown from a yard out for a 22-0 lead with 6:07 remaining. Streckwald added a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left for a 30-0 lead.
Camp Point Central scored its lone touchdown on a Moore touchdown pass to Isaac Genenbacher with 25 seconds remaining.
Lena-Winslow held Central to 165 yards of total offense, while L-W finished with 243 yards (all rushing).
“This year during practice we were hitting defense pretty hard,” Zeal said. “We do our jobs very well, and we knew what we had to do to win.”
Ross Riley led Central (13-1) with 54 yards on 10 carries. Genenbacher had 36 yards on the ground, and Moore was 3-of-6 passing for 49 yards and the touchdown.
Zeal added 80 yards on 14 carries for L-W.
Dixon felt his team put together some strong drives but just couldn’t capitalize often enough.
“We knew we wanted to make them earn it,” Dixon said. “We hoped we could put some drives together. We did, but we just didn’t punch them in. They earned everything they had today. We knew if we gave them big plays, it wasn’t going to be good for us.”
Arand and the Panthers will enjoy the school’s latest title.
“It wasn’t given to us, that’s for sure,” Arand said. “The [titles] in the past felt great, but you kind of forget what it feels like over the course of the season. Being back in Champaign, playing on a beautiful field, it doesn’t get any better than this.”