Game of the Week - Thunder Ridge makes successful changes
By CONOR NICHOLL
Thunder Ridge High School football coach Jerry Voorhees, 30-3 in the last three seasons, faced a predicament several weeks ago. Voorhees had senior Garrett Krueger, his only three-year starter, in his second season at quarterback. After a 42-38 Week 4 loss to Beloit/St. John's-Tipton, Voorhees knew the Longhorns had to throw the ball better.
Plus, Voorhees wanted someone who could run the ball better at fullback. In Voorhees' eyes, Thunder Ridge had several players who could run effectively, but couldn't block well. Then, several Longhorns could block well in the backfield, but not run or catch effectively.
"Krueger can do all three," Voorhees said. "He can block, he can run, he can catch the ball, he is smart."
The coaching staff knew junior Dylan Bretton had a good arm and could play quarterback well. After Week 5, Voorhees put Krueger at fullback and Bretton under center. The change led to a 66-14 victory versus Stockton and a 48-0 victory versus Bird City-Cheylin last Friday.
"Garrett is a great runner and very smart and a great leader for us, but we felt like maybe getting Garrett in the backfield and getting Dylan on the field at quarterback might give us our best chance to having the best eight players on the field," Voorhees said.
This week, Voorhees faces three other decisions at right guard, linebacker and safety entering Friday's virtual playoff game at Almena-Northern Valley in Eight-Man Division II, District 5.
"It has helped them quite a bit offensively," Northern Valley coach Chuck Fessenden said. "I think they are a little bit more diversified. They are able to throw the ball a little bit better. The Bretton kid is a better thrower than Krueger was. Then, they have been able to put Krueger at a receiver. He is a better receiver than the kids they had that were catching the ball for them."
Thunder Ridge is 6-1, 2-1 district, and Northern Valley stands at 4-3, 2-1. The St. John's loss marked the first district defeat since Week 7 of the 2009 season for the Longhorns. A loss Friday ends Thunder Ridge's year; the Longhorns have a bye next week.
Sophomore Jordan Gering, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound starting guard, suffered a concussion this week and is out Friday. As of Tuesday afternoon, Voorhees was uncertain whether junior Vincent Jones or junior Zach Wallgren, also the starting nose guard, would start at guard.
Last week, junior Nolan Billings was out and senior Derek Reed, normally at safety, moved to linebacker and played well. Billings will return and Voorhees could keep Reed at linebacker or move him back to safety. At safety, senior Derick Coomes will start, but junior Trent Rietzke could play safety if Reed stays at linebacker.
Krueger has started at weakside linebacker for the last three seasons. Junior Larame Boyle has played middle backer the last two years. While Voorhees wants Boyle to play lower, the junior had 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovered last Friday. He and Krueger lead the team in tackles.
Offensively, Thunder Ridge's usual power running game features Rietzke and an experienced line that includes junior center Logan Miller, senior left guard Benton Hrabe and senior Dalton Minor and Reed at the ends. Rietzke has rushed for 1,153 yards and 21 TDs, including 12 carries for 196 yards and three TDs last Friday. Thunder Ridge has had a 1,000-yard rusher all six seasons of the program's existence.
"Trent is a tough kid, he is smart," Voorhees said. "He is one of my favorite kids that I have ever coached. He is a hard worker. He does a nice job for us.
"He doesn't have the outright speed that we've had in the past," he added. "He has got decent speed, but he is so quick, and he sees the hole well. He just gets better and better. Obviously, we keep feeding him the football."
On Friday, Krueger collected five rushes for 94 yards and two scores and hauled in two passes for 24 yards and another TD.
Plus, he returned a fumble 15 yards for the game's first score. Bretton completed 2 of 5 passes for 24 yards and rushed four times for 26 yards. Thunder Ridge ranks No. 3 in scoring offense at 364 points.
"In the style of offense that we run, if you can't make that fullback go, this offense doesn't work that good," Voorhees said. "You've got to have a fullback in this offense."