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Game of the Week - Thunder Ridge O-line paving the way

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Thge Thunder Ridge High School football team's calling card is a power running game behind a big offensive line. Longhorn running backs Joel Struckhoff and Trevor Lowe, and linemen Kade Dennis, Dakota Foreman, Chandler Hoskins and Dillon Coomes have earned all-state in the last two years.

Longhorn junior center Logan Miller backed up the outstanding linemen and competed versus the quartet daily in practice. He mainly watched as Thunder Ridge won an Eight-Man Division II state title two years ago and runner-up in 2012.

"He has been up against some really good guys in practice the last two years, and we felt that he could come in this year," coach Jerry Voorhees said.

The 6-foot, 260-pound Miller is the lone Longhorn who was involved in a terrible summer car accident and is still playing this year. Voorhees said Miller is "better" at around 235 to 240 pounds. Still, in Week 8, Miller opened several holes on dive plays for big gains and has blocked well for junior running back Trent Rietzke and senior fullback Garrett Krueger.

"I think that has hindered him as far as some of his quickness and stuff," Voorhees said. "We will work on that in the offseason. Miller does a nice job for us."

Miller, senior Benton Hrabe (5-11, 220), sophomore Jordan Gering (6-1, 240) and junior Zach Wallgren (5-11, 186) form the interior line that has continually wore down opponents.

"He has been getting better week in and week out," senior fullback Garrett Krueger said of Miller. "He has been improving every time."

Tonight, Thunder Ridge (7-1) travels to Wallace County, 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the classification's statewide media poll, for the first round of the playoffs. Start time is 6 p.m. Central time. Likely, the game's biggest key is whether Thunder Ridge's big line can open holes for the speedy Rietzke to get to the second level.

"We've got to hopefully somewhat control the line of scrimmage, and not let him get into the secondary where he makes some really special plays," Wallace County coach Kevin Ayers said. "He turns short gains into big gains if he gets into your secondary."

Wallace County, eight-man's No. 1 scoring defense with 34 points allowed and six shutouts, counters with seniors Clay Schemm, Dalton Walker and Tyrell Springsteel up front. Last year, Wallace County lost 44-22 in sub-state to the Longhorns and Ayers was frustrated with a rare off day from his squad.

"As you go through your preparation, I thought about the things last year that we did that really hurt us in that game," Ayers said. "We have tried to correct some of those things. There is definitely some scheme things that coach Voorhees put in that really gave us difficulties."

Since Week 5 of the 2010 season, Wallace County is 31-1 when it doesn't face Thunder Ridge; 0-3 when it plays the Longhorns. All three defeats came in the postseason.

"We would be lying to say that we haven't had in the back of our minds since last year," Ayers said.

Schemm has 134 career tackles and 17 career sacks. Walker has 136 tackles and eight tackles for loss, and Springsteel has a team-high 7.5 sacks this season.

"It will be a great game," Miller said. "I really can't wait for it. I hope we do good, but it will be tough."

Miller started to play center in fifth grade and stayed at the position all the way through junior high. He has worked on his footsteps and lifted plenty in the summer and school year along with his teammates - Miller called the weight training the key to Thunder Ridge's success.

"Just moving them a lot more," Miller said of his feet. "You've got to chop them a lot to keep them back. If you keep them on the ground, then (opponents) will get the push and knock you over. I hard to work on that (in Week 8)."

The line has helped Rietzke rush for 24 touchdowns and Krueger has cleared 500 rushing yards after he moved from quarterback after Week 5. Thunder Ridge has enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in all six seasons of the school's existence.

"Krueger is a tough, tough kid," Voorhees said. "Most competitive kid that I have ever coached. He has got a good head on his shoulders, and from going to quarterback back to fullback, that could have broke him, and he has really stepped up to the plate. Really bought into the role of what we need there, and he is a great blocker. He catches the ball, runs hard. He has done a lot of nice things for us."