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Weskan, Wallace Co. one of state's biggest games

Published on -10/18/2012, 12:06 PM

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A long-standing ritual between Kansas high school football coaches is the film exchange every Saturday morning. Each coach normally meets his opponent's coach for that week in a central location for both parties. However, sometimes coaches have to drive for more than an hour for the film dropoff.

That problem doesn't exist for Weskan coach Marc Cowles and Wallace County coach Kevin Ayers. The duo lives about 30 yards apart in Sharon Springs.

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"It's pretty simple," Ayers said with a laugh. "Do you want to meet at the mailboxes or what?"

The closeness of the two coaches is part of a journey for Ayers and Cowles that started several decades ago and is one of many storylines for one of Kansas' biggest games Friday when Weskan travels to Wallace County.

Weskan had won just seven contests in the previous four years, but is 7-0 and ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man Division II in the statewide media poll. Wallace County stands at 6-0 and is ranked second.

Friday's contest will determine the District 6 champion. Both teams have already qualified for the playoffs. It will mark Weskan's first trip to the playoffs since 2005. Wallace County has made the postseason every year under Ayers, but has four straight first-round losses and hasn't won a district crown since 2008.

Ayers is 136-25 in his career, including 57-14 at Wallace County. That includes three state titles, the first two coming at his initial stop, Jetmore.

Cowles served as an assistant at Goodland and is 53-51 in his 11th season at Weskan. Cowles attended Sharon Springs and Ayers went to Winona-Triplains. The coaches share similar philosophies, are good friends and attended many of the same events during the years.

"I knew who he was in high school, but we were far enough apart, didn't know him well, and then met at some clinics, some powerlifting meets and just started talking," Ayers said. "Obviously, we had a lot of the same interests both being football coaches and teaching strength and conditioning. We just kind of hit it off."

Both coaches look to strive for balance on offense and run a 3-2 defense.

"We are always picking each other's brain on how we do things," Ayers said. "We share and share alike until it starts getting close (to our matchup). It's odd, because we will see each other and we will be talking football and then the week we play each other, the football subject doesn't come up at all. That's strange, that one week out of the year, it gets pretty tight-lipped."

After his tenure at Jetmore, Ayers moved to Sharon Springs to be closer to his family. The Ayers family rented a house their first year, but the second year, they bought the house near Cowles.

Cowles went to Goodland as an assistant and would drive every day from work in Sharon Springs to Goodland to coach. For some time, he coached with Chris Walters, then the Goodland head coach and now the Hays High School defensive coordinator. The position at Weskan came open and he took over. At one clinic, he borrowed Ayers' play-action pass. Cowles' longtime assistant, Ty See, advocates a smashmouth mentality, but Cowles likes to have the same balance that Ayers wants.

In 2004, Cowles led Weskan to the sub-state championship game where it lost to Hanston by 10. Hanston then won the state title by 50 points. After the playoff appearance the following season, Weskan started to drop off, but went 4-5 last season. That included a win against a 6-3 Almena-Northern Valley squad in Week 1 and close losses to Rexford-Golden Plains and Dighton.

"That win against Northern Valley was big," Cowles said. "To start off the season with a win felt good. Then, we beat Cheyenne Wells, Colo. and started off 2-0 and we hadn't done that in a long time, and then last year, we played Dighton, we played Golden Plains.

"We lost two in a row there, but you look on film - we lose to Dighton by three scores and you can show the boys on the film, 'Hey we gave up a kick return for a touchdown, we gave up a fake punt for a touchdown, and we just gave up a long run to a pretty good back,'" he added. "You can show them on film, we are three plays away from winning this game. Golden Plains game was the same way."

The team has plenty of juniors and seniors this fall. That includes senior quarterback Sam McKinney and junior end Hayden Walker. McKinney has completed 58 of 97 passes for 1,140 yards with a 25/2 TD/INT ratio. Hayden Walker has caught 30 passes for 733 yards and 16 scores for a team that has outscored opponents 338-60.

For Wallace County, senior quarterback Gavin Mote has completed 29 of 45 passes for 453 yards with an 8/2 TD/INT ratio and leads the team with 74 carries for 562 yards and 13 TDs. Juniors Callahan Grund and Clay Schemm have played well at defensive end. Grund has 25 tackles and three sacks, while Schemm has 22 tackles and a team-high four sacks for a squad that has outscored opponents 266-52 and rank second in the classification in scoring defense.

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