Little brother plays like big brother to lead Lena-Winslow back to football title game
LENA — Gage Dunker seems plenty big enough to be a Class 1A football star at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds.
Until you realize his older brother could block out the local water tower and plays in the Big Ten Conference as a 6-6, 291-pound Iowa freshman.
Saturday, at least metaphorically, Gage stood as tall as his big brother, forcing a fumble, intercepting a pass and notching a sack to lead Lena-Winslow over Colfax Ridgeview/Lexington 28-12 in the Class 1A state football semifinals.
Le-Win will now play for its fifth state title 10 a.m. Friday at NIU against Carrollton (12-1
“Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Thanksgiving in DeKalb,” said Marey Roby, who ran for 143 yards for Le-Win (11-2).
Le-Win was not nearly as dominant on offense as normal Saturday, being held without a first down five times. All 14 of the Panthers first downs were gained on their four touchdown drives.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Roby said of Le-Win’s eight penalties for 51 yards. “But we knew once we got a drive going we were going to finish it, and we did. Every single time we got a touchdown.”
Le-Win also didn’t need a ton of offense. Not with a defense led by Dunker.
Dunker called his two forced turnovers “really sweet.”
“It was kind of a dream come true,” he said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but I try to be as good as him (Gage). And my little brother is pretty good, too.”
“He’s a sophomore,” Roby said. “That’s what blows my mind. He’s the best defensive player we have on our team and he’s a sophomore. Just like his brother, he’s going to be a star.”
Le-Win’s defense held all-state running back Kaden Farrell to 41 yards on 16 carries but did give up 144 yards passing, including a 38-yard touchdown on third-and-10 to pull Ridgeview/Lexington (8-5) to within 22-1 early in the fourth quarter.
“We get criticized for giving up yards passing, but our focus has always been on shutting down the run,” Le-Win coach Ric Arand said.
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The Panthers did that all day. Dunker, Brady Eilders, Ethan Fye and Brody Mahon stuffed the Mustangs most of the day. Their only other score came on a 25-yard drive at the end of the first half.
“Our D line, they played insane,” Mahon, an all-state linebacker, said. “They kept their guys off our linebackers. That’s all you can ask for.”
Quarterback Luke Benson, who also had an interception on defense, scored on TD runs of 1 and 7 yards. Roby scored on runs of 20 and 4 yards. Le-Win led only 8-6 at halftime overt a team that had suffered all four of its losses to Class 2A playoff teams.
The Panthers then opened the second half by stopping Ridgeview/Lexington twice and scoring on 50- and 39-yard drives to lead 22-6.
“We couldn’t have played better the first six or seven minutes of the third quarter,” Arand said.
After the Mustangs cut it to 22-12, Dunker forced a fumble that Jake Zeal recovered on their next drive. If that didn’t clinch the win with six minutes left, Roby did with a 22-yard run on third-and-8 where it looked like he was going out of bounds, then broke back inside and juked out a couple of defenders.
“That’s just Marey,” Arand said.
That led to a TD and a 28-12 lead with 57 seconds left. Dunker then finished it off with his interception.
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“He was insane,” Mahon said of Dunker, who also ran six times for 25 yards. “He’s been insane for us all year. As a sophomore coming in, he’s filled the shoes of what we need. He’s been the guy on the perimeter (at linebacker). And to think he has two more years after this. That should be scary.
“People know his name because of Gennings, but they never thought Gage could be what Gennings was. But he has definitely filled those shoes.”