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Prep Football: Linn-Mar Still Entertaining Playoff Hopes After Win Over City High

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MARION, Iowa Who'da thunk?

There's no way these Linn-Mar Lions would have guessed midway through the football season they'd be entertaining serious playoff hopes heading into Week 9. Yet here they are now doing just that after a surprising 33-20 win Friday night over Iowa City High.

Linn-Mar is still only 3-5, but three wins might be the magic number to be a part of the Class 4A postseason on this side of the state. After an 0-3 and 1-4 start, that would be pretty phenomenal for this group.

The Lions end the regular season next week at unbeaten Cedar Rapids Xavier.

"It's been hard, especially for us seniors," said quarterback Rhys Davis. "Looking back at last year, me and a bunch of guys sat on the bench and watched those guys do a great job and be 9-0 in the regular season. Learning how to win, I think, was our biggest thing. It was harder for us seniors because the juniors, this is all they know so far."

Linn-Mar forced four turnovers, recorded a safety and returned a fumble and kickoff for touchdown to send City High (4-4) to a third straight loss. The Little Hawks are missing several key players to injury, including top running back-linebacker Amos Lavela, who didn't dress Friday.

A 34-yard touchdown run by Bryson Runge in the second quarter ended a nine-quarter City High pointless streak. The Little Hawks actually outgained Linn-Mar by an over two-to-one margin, not that it mattered.

"We challenged the kids this week," said Linn-Mar Coach Bob Forsyth. "We felt the previous three games, we won two of them and played pretty well against Cedar Falls, that maybe we had turned a corner. Then we came out and just didn't play very well at all last week (against Cedar Rapids Prairie). So we challenged the kids, and they really responded."

Linn-Mar led at halftime, 17-14. All you had in the first half was the fumble-return TD, the kickoff-return TD, a 46-yard Austin Wolter field goal, a 38-yard Wolter field-goal attempt that hit the crossbar and bounced out, over 200 yards rushing by City High and an inadvertent whistle that cost Linn-Mar a TD and helped give City High one.

Got all that?

City High had 214 first-half yards, every one on the ground interspersed between quarterback Jake Leohr and running backs Runge and Xavier Washpun. Linn-Mar's first offensive possession ended with Wolter long field goal, one that skimmed the crossbar on its way over.

Leohr then fumbled after getting popped by Linn-Mar linebacker Austin Burbridge, with linebacker Dakota Digmann picking it up and running it home for a 10-0 Lions lead in the first quarter.

"We emphasize with everything that you've got to get turnovers," Digmann said. "You can't win games unless you get turnovers. We just kept working on it and working on it ... (The fumble return) was a dream. I couldn't have dreamed it any better."

Linn-Mar stopped Leohr on a fourth-down sneak attempt inside the 1-yard line on City High's ensuing possession. On the next play, Davis took a read-option handoff out of the belly of fullback Nick Trabucco at the very last second and ran around right end.

But Davis' fake was so good it fooled the officials, who believed Trabucco was being tackled in his end zone and whistled the play dead as the QB sprinted into the clear. Linn-Mar ended up having to punt, giving City High great field position it converted into Runge's touchdown.

"It was funny because I didn't understand what was going on," Davis said. "I'd faked it to him and pulled it out. It was actually a late pull, but I pulled it out and there was nothing but green. I took off, then all of a sudden, I'm looking back like 'What's going on?' I don't know. It kind of sucked, but oh, well?"

Oh, well, especially after sophomore Andrew Gassmann countered with a 94-yard return for touchdown on the City High kickoff. That gave Linn-Mar a 17-6 lead, with Washpun's 5-yard plunge up the middle and a Leohr two-point run making it 17-14 at the break.

The teams went scoreless in the third. A Zach Martins interception and return to the City High 6 early in the fourth led to a Trabucco 2-yard touchdown run that gave Linn-Mar separation.

Runge finished with 132 yards rushing. City High was held to just 48 second-half rushing yards, not good for a team that has great difficulty throwing.

"We challenged them to come out and show more intensity in the second half. More attitude, effort and toughness defensively," Forsyth said. "That was basically it. At some point, it's just blocking and tackling. It's not much else."

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