Thunder Ridge back to state
By KLINT SPILLER
KENSINGTON -- After returning just two starters on both offense and defense from last season's state championship team, even Kensington-Thunder Ridge football coach Jerry Voorhees had a hard time imagining his team would return to Newton for another state championship game.
Thunder Ridge (11-1), the defending Eight-Man Division II state champion, defied expectations Saturday by defeating Sharon Springs-Wallace County 44-22 and punching the team's ticket to a second state title game.
"These kids have no quit in them," Voorhees said. "They fight, fight and fight and care about each other. When you have kids that do that, they will play hard for one another."
Thunder Ridge's power rushing attack proved to be too much for Wallace County's No. 1-ranked defense, which had allowed 5.6 points per game heading into Saturday's sub-state title game.
Senior fullback Trevor Lowe led the way for the Longhorns, bulldozing over the Wildcats for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
He also completed the Longhorns only pass of the game, a 53-yarder to sophomore tailback Trent Rietzke on a trick play on third-and-16 to set up their first score.
"Trevor runs the football so hard," Voorhees said. "Every coach I talk to (says their players) get tired of hitting him."
For Wallace County, it was a disappointing ending, especially since the squad engineered a near-perfect season based on being fundamentally sound.
The Wildcats finished with three turnovers and 10 penalties for 102 yards.
"There were penalties and missed assignments and things that are not us," Wallace County coach Kevin Ayers said. "That's not who we are, and that's not how we got to this point. That's what makes it so hard."
Senior Gavin Mote, a four-year starter at quarterback for Wallace County, led his squad 77 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He also completed 11 of 17 passes for 135 yards, but he threw three interceptions.
Thunder Ridge junior Derek Reed was a game changer for his squad, picking off two passes and handling a good portion of the carries.
"We knew we had to make big plays to beat this team," Reed said. "They are a good football team. We did enough to win."
Thunder Ridge made big play after big play and slowly dug Wallace County's hole deeper and deeper.
Following Lowe's 53-yard pass to Rietzke, Reed rushed up the middle for an 8-yard score with 8:43 remaining in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Wallace County hurt itself by snapping the ball above its punter's head, which resulted in a safety to trail 10-0.
Later, Lowe broke a 44-yard touchdown run with 4:37 to go in the second, and Reed added a 12-yard TD run with 1:18 remaining to go up 22-0.
In the second half, Lowe scored from a yard out on his team's first possession, and on Thunder Ridge's next drive, Krueger broke a 21-yard run to put his team up 36-0 and seemingly on the brink of mercy ruling Wallace County. However, Thunder Ridge failed its 2-point conversion and Wallace County started rallying.
Wallace County junior receiver Kyle Gfeller connected with senior Eli Kuhlman on a trick play of their own for a 10-yard touchdown to narrow the lead to 36-8.
Lowe pushed the gap back with a 22-yard touchdown run on Thunder Ridge's next drive, but Wallace County responded with a 59-yard pass to junior Callahan Grund and capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run by senior running back Edgardo Gonzalez.
Mote added the final touchdown of the game with 3:25 remaining on a 1-yard run, but it was too late for the Wildcats.
"You take this game out of it, and we feel real good about our season and how much we've improved," Ayers said. "Unfortunately, this is the one that sticks in your taste buds. You want to spit it out and you can't."