Game of the Week -- Wallace County rolls past Thunder Ridge
By CONOR NICHOLL
SHARON SPRINGS -- Wallace County High School has seven seniors and experience at nearly every position. The Wildcats are known for their discipline and focus under eighth-year coach Kevin Ayers. Before Tuesday, since Week 5 of the 2010 season, Wallace County was 0-3 against Thunder Ridge; 31-1 against everyone else.
"At the games, a lot of teams, a lot of coaches are very impressed with how disciplined our boys are," senior quarterback Kyle Gfeller said.
On Tuesday, Wallace County had an extremely rare 14 penalties for 154 yards, but kept its composure and trademark steadiness. It helped lead to a big 53-6 win against Thunder Ridge in the first round of the Eight-Man Division II playoffs.
The Longhorns defeated Wallace County in the first round in 2010 and '11 and in the sub-state championship contest last year; all three games were in Kensington. Wallace County forced three turnovers, including a 72-yard fumble recovery score from senior Cayden Daily.
"It feels great," Ayers said. "It's something that has been in the back of our mind since last year. Then, in the years before that, it kind of just builds and our kids were very hungry for this game, and just played with some outstanding effort. Can't fault their effort at all, and big plays when we needed big plays. Other than the penalties, I couldn't be more pleased with them."
Six touchdowns went for at least 19 yards. Gfeller finished 10 of 14 passing for 162 yards, rushed 18 times for 124 yards, threw two rushing and two passing scores, picked up two tackles for loss, had a touchback on all but one kickoff and kicked a 33-yard field goal.
The Wildcat defense bottled up speedy Thunder Ridge junior running back Trent Rietzke for 24 carries for 76 yards and one TD. The game was called with 4 minutes, 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter because of the 45-point rule on a 20-yard TD score from junior Nate Klinge.
"There was a huge load when I saw Nate Klinge go around the corner for a touchdown," Gfeller said. "Sigh of relief. I can't even explain how excited I am."
Wallace County, ranked No. 2 in the statewide media poll, moved to 10-0. Thunder Ridge finished 7-2 after it won a state crown two years ago and runner-up last fall.
"It was a nice way to prove to ourselves that we are a different team this year, and that we have more in us than just getting to Thunder Ridge and Kensington and losing a game there," senior lineman Clay Schemm said. "It's a good stepping stone for us mentally to get over this."
The Wildcats will play Dighton (6-4) in the second round at 3 p.m. Saturday. Wallace County, eight-man's No. 1-ranked scoring defense at 40 points allowed, defeated Dighton 51-0 in the season opener.
"We just don't have the speed to play with these guys," Thunder Ridge coach Jerry Voorhees said. "They are a really good football team. It's going to be tough for anybody to beat them in the west. I think Baileyville (in the east) will have their hands full if they can get there against them. I felt like (Wallace) was the best team, and I knew that we just got a tough draw."
Both teams had 11 days off between contests. Tuesday yielded temperatures that dipped below freezing and a loud crowd that Daily called "an unbelievable atmosphere." An excited Wildcat team led 22-0 with 5 minutes, 59 seconds in the first quarter and 33-6 at halftime.
"We were ready for this game," Schemm said. "We wanted to come out here and play them. We have been waiting about 365 days for it."
However, Wallace County faced adversity from the first play. Gfeller had a 55-yard touchdown down the left side, but a penalty called back the TD. Later, the Wildcats had two more scores called back because of flags. Wallace County quickly faced 3rd-and-23, but Gfeller hit senior Callahan Grund for a 27-yard pickup.
Klinge finished the drive with a 30-yard score and collected 10 carries for 100 yards and two TDs.
"You have got your script of plays that you are looking at, so I just went right back to that," Ayers said.
"It's something that I thought we could maybe do against them and fortunately for us, it broke open."
Klinge had a 44-yard run on the next possession and Gfeller scored from one yard out. On the third possession, Wallace County had a penalty on its first play. However, on the next snap, Gfeller received a big downfield block from senior Dalton Walker and raced 69 yards for a score.
"We have got great belief in each other," Gfeller said. "We are always picking each other up. We know that if we start fighting amongst ourselves, that it's just going to fall apart. No matter if the ball goes their way or not, we have got to get our heads up, make the ball bounce back our way. Just keep fighting."
Later in the second quarter, Wallace County had a 3rd-and-18 because of a penalty, but eventually scored on a 19-yard play-action pass from Gfeller to Daily. Throughout the week, Wallace County knew the play-action would work on Thunder Ridge. Gfeller worked on selling the run fake and holding onto the ball as long as possible. The offensive line stayed low and sold the run well.
"Prepping for this game was all about just lock down the stuff mentally so when we come out here today, we can just go and have fun and play the game the way it's supposed to played," Schemm said.
In the second half, Daily hauled in wide-open passes of 33 yards for a score, 25 and 24 yards off play action. The penultimate touchdown came on his fumble recovery with his fifth defensive/special teams TD of the year.
"I picked it up, and all guys were following me, got a block on that lead guy and took it to the end zone," Daily said. "Couldn't have done it without my team."