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Thunder Ridge looks to repeat

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Heading into last Saturday's game against Otis-Bison, Kensington-Thunder Ride football coach Jerry Voorhees said he was worried how his team would respond in a four-quarter, grind-it-out game. The team hadn't been put in that position all season.

After getting walloped 62-12 in the opening game against Mankato-Rock Hills, now an Eight-Man Division I semifinalist, the Longhorns crushed the rest of their schedule, winning by an average margin of 49.3 points and mercy ruling all but one of its next nine opponents.

But Voorhees said he knew Otis-Bison (9-2) was too good for the Longhorns to simply stampede past the Cougars.

"I was a little concerned," Voorhees said. "We hadn't played four quarters of football really the entire year. ... I wasn't sure how we would respond physically."

Thunder Ridge, the defending Eight-Man Division II state champion, rose to the challenge. The Longhorns (10-1) used an impressive defensive performance to shut down one of the best eight-man running backs in the state, senior Dylan Wissman, and won 28-18.

Wissman averaged 179.8 yards rushing and four touchdowns per game on the ground, but against Thunder Ridge, Wissman ran for just 73 yards on 23 carries and didn't score. It was the first time this season Wissman rushed for fewer than 100 yards rushing and was held out of the end zone.

"I thought our kids played extremely hard," Voorhees said.

The Thunder Ridge coach said his going to need a similar four-quarter effort to take down Sharon Springs-Wallace County (10-0) and its stout defense.

The two teams will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in Kensington for the sub-state championship and an opportunity to compete in the state championship game.

Both teams have been there recently. Thunder Ridge won last year, while Wallace County earned a title in 2007 in head coach Kevin Ayers' second year with the program.

Wallace County has steamrolled through its schedule, especially recently. The only close game the Wildcats have played was in Week 2 when they defeated Hoxie 20-6. In their past seven games, they've mercy ruled six of them and allowed an average of 2.6 points per game.

In fact, Wallace County' defense leads both Eight-Man Division I and Division II in points allowed per game. The Wildcats have given up just 56 points this season, or 5.6 per game. Ness City, ranked No. 1 in Eight-Man Division I, is the next closest, allowing 62 points in 11 games.

"I really don't have a feel for what to expect," Voorhees said. "I know it will be a physical game on both sides."

Voorhees said the game could come down to a "couple plays at the opportune time."

For much of the season, Thunder Ridge senior fullback Trevor Lowe has been the one delivering those game-changing plays.

Against Otis-Bison, Lowe ran for 153 yards on 27 carries. On 19 of his carries, Lowe ran for four or fewer yards, but occasionally, Lowe would find a way to break a tackle and deliver huge gains -- twice breaking fourth-and-short situations for long touchdown runs.

"They are going to key on Trevor," Voorhees said. "We know that, but Trevor is a really tough runner."

As far as stopping Wallace County, Voorhees said the key is to be sound in their assignments and focus on fourth-year starting quarterback Gavin Mote.

Mote's completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 835 yards and a 15-to-4 TD-to-interception ratio and rushed for 783 yards and 20 touchdowns -- both team highs.

"He's definitely going to be an issue for us trying to stop him," Voorhees said. "He can run, he can throw it and he makes good decisions. Obviously, we have to find some way to slow that kid down."