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St. John's Beloit-Tipton 57, Osborne 34

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Game of the Week: Sharon Springs has experience on its side

Published on -9/6/2012, 11:40 AM

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Since a 13-0 season and Eight-Man Division II state championship in 2007, Sharon Springs-Wallace County has consistently been ranked among the top eight-man teams. However, the Wildcats have lost in the first round in the playoffs the last four seasons, including big losses to Thunder Ridge each of the last two falls.

In 2012, coach Kevin Ayers, 52-14 in his seventh year with Sharon Springs, calls the Wildcats a "more mature" group than the last couple of seasons. The Wildcats returned five offensive and seven defensive starters, including senior quarterback Gavin Mote, a four-year starter. Sharon Springs lists seven seniors, the most in the program since 2009.

"In the past several years, we have played a lot of sophomores just because of lack of numbers in the upper class," Ayers said. "This year, we are still playing some sophomores, but the juniors and seniors are the kids that are out there, and they have been in the program, and they have done the drills."

Sharon Springs, 1-0 and ranked No. 2 in the statewide media poll in Eight-Man Division II, will have its first big test of the season when it plays host to Hoxie (1-0) on Friday.

Last year, Sharon Springs defeated Hoxie 30-22 in a game that helped the Wildcats finish 8-2. This fall, the experienced group looks to play deeper into the postseason. In addition to the '07 crown, Ayers also won two state titles at Jetmore, which is now Hodgeman County.

"It's early, but there is a definite hunger with this team," Ayers said. "We have made the playoffs, but we haven't made any noise the last several years. I think this team wants to take it to the next level, and that's kind of been the focus that we have. Making the playoffs is good, and we are proud of doing that, but we want to do something with it."

In the area, only Victoria has reached the playoffs for more consecutive years than Sharon Springs' current six season run. The Wildcats did make some personnel changes, but returned its entire defensive backfield from a unit that outscored opponents 393-162 last season and beat Dighton 57-20 last Friday.

"We've got pretty good talent on our team," Mote, also a starter in the secondary, said. "We've got a good offensive line and backfield. We have got a good well-rounded team. I don't know how we would compare to the state championship team back in 2007, but I think that if we all come together this year, we could make a pretty good run for it. ... I would like nothing better than to give Ayers another state ring."

The offensive line has seen plenty of adjustments after center Cody Pearce graduated. Junior Dalton Walker, who was the junior varsity center and played a little varsity at guard last fall, has stepped in at center and nose guard. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles last Friday. Senior Lane Perry and sophomore Nate Klinge are first-year starters at guard. Perry and Klinge are the linebackers in the 3-2 defense, while Walker plays nose guard. Ayers said he was "very pleased" with the linemen's mental aspect, but wanted some improvement on technique and physicality.

"It's a real mental game," Ayers said. "It takes a long time for those guys to mesh."

In addition to Mote's 140 rushing and 138 passing yards, senior Edgardo Gonzalez, a physical fullback in his first year as a starter, rushed 12 times for 79 yards and two scores, while junior Kyle Gfeller had 10 carries for 41 yards. Gfeller also recorded six tackles, kicked a 41-yard punt that stayed inside Dighton's 20-yard line, had two touchbacks on kickoffs and kicked an extra point, a rarity in the eight-man ranks.

"Kyle has made tremendous improvement," Ayers said. "A lot of times from that sophomore to junior year, you see kids just really start to mature, and so Kyle has done an outstanding job of putting in the time."

The experienced group includes junior end Callahan Grund, a returning starter who collected four catches for 70 yards and a score, and picked up a sack and seven tackles. Junior Caden Daily, also a second-year starter, hauled in two passes for 68 yards and had four tackles. While Ayers said there's multiple areas "we can get better at," the experienced, veteran group has the potential for a memorable season.

"It's nice to see that hunger in the kids," Ayers said. "It hasn't been enough to just make the playoffs. They want more, and, of course, that just spills over. I think the coaching staff wants more. We want to get to that next level."

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