'What a feeling': Lena-Winslow steamrolls to third straight Class 1A football state title
CHAMPAIGN — So what is the overriding emotion when your team locks down its third state title in your four years of high school?
"It's so sweet; so sweet," Lena-Winslow's senior lineman Henry Engel said after his Panthers rolled right over the Camp Point Central Panthers 30-8 to win the Illinois High School Association Class 1A state football championship Friday morning in Champaign.
"There is just no better way to go out," Engel said. "It's just amazing, and I'm on Cloud 9 right now. ... And to do it like this, I mean, wow, what a feeling."
It was Le-Win's third state title in a row, with a break in 2020 with no state tournament due to COVID-19. It was also the program's sixth state championship since 2010.
Looking for the game preview? IHSA Class 1A championship breakdown
And just like all but one of Le-Win's other games this year, it came in a completely dominant fashion. The Panthers of Le-Win led just 16-0 at half, but slowly pulled away in the second half, using an 18-play, 67-yard drive that chewed up almost 11 minutes of the clock to really seal the deal.
"These guys did just a great job of just hammering away at them," Le-Win coach Ric Arand said. "That drive in the third quarter, and into the fourth quarter, just had to be a killer for them."
Defense keys first-half push
The top-ranked Panthers (14-0) were stopped on downs on their first possession of the title game, but then got Gage Dunker touchdown runs to cap off their next two drives to grab momentum. With the defense doing its job throughout, holding Central to 54 yards rushing and 21 yards passing in the first half, the offense just had to find a rhythm.
"Defense wins championships," Jace Flynn said after compiling seven tackles and swarming to the ball all day from his linebacker position. "And we showed that today."
Before the final drive of the game, Central's longest plays were a pair of 7-yard runs from halfback Ross Riley. Central's final drive ended with their lone score of the title game, a 28-yard touchdown pass from QB Nick Moore to running back Isaac Genenbacher. By then, the game was well out of reach with 1:40 left to play.
Big plays from Gage Dunker, Gunar Lobdell
Dunker finished with 120 yards rushing and three TDs on 22 carries, while Jake Zeal added 74 yards on 14 carries. Gunar Lobdell, the team's leading rusher heading into the game, had just 41 yards on the ground on 16 carries, after averaging over 12 yards per carry during the year.
But Lobdell helped keep Le-Win on pace for the title when he avoided disaster as the team's punter midway through the third quarter. After getting stuffed on a third-and-long run, he one-handed the snap that looked to be floating over his head. He then ran out of two tackles before somehow getting a 38-yard punt off to pin Central.
"I just did what I had to do," Lobdell said of the play. A pair of Central defenders had him in their grasp on their own 23-yard-line before he scooted away and unleashed a running punt. "In these kinds of games, those are big plays. ... We had a lot of those little things today."
Central's leading rusher Isaac Genenbacher went over 1,000 yards (1,016) on the season in the game, but he managed just 36 yards on 11 carries Friday. Central (13-1) finished with 116 yards on the ground and 49 yards through the air. Le-Win rushed for 243 yards and four TDs, averaging just 4.3 yards per touch, but wearing down their foe down the stretch.
"I'd say we finally got under their skin," Engel said, "and just wore them down."
What did we predict?Check out picks for all the championship games
Zeal led the Le-Win defense with nine tackles, followed by Nick Inden and Flynn with seven, and Lobdell had six stops while Engel and Dunker each added four tackles.
After Forreston thwarted Central by a similar score (44-6) in the 2018 Class 1A state title game, those Panthers now find themselves 0-2 against NUIC foes in games for all the marbles.
NUIC teams have now won six Class 1A state football titles in a row, and 10 of the last 12.
"Until somebody can beat that conference," Central coach Brad Dixon said, "they're definitely the top dogs."
12:12 p.m. — FINAL: Lena-Winslow 30, Camp Point Central 8
The Panthers of Lena-Winslow have won their third straight title with a dominating performance over Camp Point Central.
12:09 p.m. — Camp Point Central gets on the board
Central ends Le-Win's bid for a shutout when Isaac Genenbacher catches a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Moore with 25 seconds remaining to make it 30-8.
12:01 p.m. — Le-Win adds another touchdown
Le-Win puts the game away with a 5-yard touchdown run from Drew Streckwald with 2:11 remaining in the game. That should seal it for the top-ranked Panthers.
11:47 a.m. — Dunker, Le-Win pounds it in again, leads 22-0
Le-Win marches 71 yards and pounds it right at Central, finally taking a 22-0 lead late in the game on Gage Dunker's third TD run just after Le-Win got 2 yards on a 4th-and-1. The way this Panther' D is playing, that should be more than enough to seal the deal.
Le-Win 22, Central 0 | 6:07 4th quarter
11:35 a.m. — Le-Win one point from setting NUIC scoring record
Le-Win was driving deep into Central territory as the fourth quarter started, and the Panthers are just one point away from setting the NUIC single-season scoring record for points scored. They are at 686 right now.
Le-Win 16, Central 0 | start of 4th quarter
11:24 a.m. — Gunar Lobdell keeps Le-Win safely out front with... punt?
Le-Win's star running back Gunar Lobdell got stuffed on a 3rd-and-long, but then as the punter, he saved the day early in the third quarter. The snap nearly went over his head, he one-handed it, ran out of two tackles, then gets a 38-yard punt off to pin Central.
Le-Win 16, Central 0 | 7:53 3rd quarter
10:59 a.m. — Le-Win takes 16-point lead into locker room
Le-Win's defense is coming up big time and time again, holding Central to 54 yards rushing and 21 yards passing in the first half. Gage Dunker has 75 yards and a pair of TD runs on 12 carries to lead Le-Win into the halftime locker room up 16-0.
Le-Win 16, Central 0 | Halftime
10:50 a.m. — Panthers D comes up big again
Le-Win's stingy defense comes up big again, stuffing Central on a 4th-and-4 play on the 14 yard line to take over on downs again. That's the second stop on downs for the Panthers' D, which also has an early interception.
Le-Win 16, Central 0 | 2:20 2nd quarter
10:35 a.m. — Le-Win charges right back down the field
In dominant fashion, Le-Win drives 50 yards in 10 plays and Gage Dunker charges in for his second TD of the game. The Panthers appear to be in control right now.
Le-Win 16, Central 0 | 9:03 2nd quarter
10:27 a.m. — First quarter ends with Le-Win up 8-0
Using lots of Gunar Lobdell and Jake Zeal, Le-Win is driving for another score as the first quarter ends. Le-Win is on the Central-37.
Le-Win 8, Central 0 | end of 1st quarter
10:24 a.m. — Le-Win's Gage Dunker hauls in INT
Gage Dunker snatches an interception, and Le-Win, up 8-0 already, is back in business.
Le-Win 8, Central 0 | 5:08 1st quarter
10:17 a.m. — Failed fake punt leads to Lena-Winslow TD
After Central fails to make it on a fake put, Le-Win drives down and takes the early lead.
Le-Win 8, Central 0 | 5:08 1st quarter
10:00 a.m. — Lena-Winslow, Central set to kickoff for 1A title
Time for kickoff.
Le-Win 0, Central 0 | Kickoff
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Lena-Winslow vs. Camp Point Central pregame news
- PREVIEW: A look at the Class 1A championship football game
- PREDICTIONS: Outlook and prediction for every IHSA football championship game
- SEMIFINALS:Lena-Winslow | Camp Point Central
Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, since the turn of the century at the Register Star, and for over 30 years all together.