8-man playoffs -- Daily, Wildcats square of with Dighton
By CONOR NICHOLL
SHARON SPRINGS -- Wallace County High School's Cayden Daily finished with two catches for eight yards and just two tackles in a 44-22 Eight-Man Division II sub-state championship loss to Thunder Ridge last season.
Daily completed the year with 19 catches for 325 yards, 19 tackles, no return yardage and four total TDs.
On Tuesday, Daily enjoyed a big game with five catches for 112 yards and three TDs, two fumble recoveries, including a 72-yard fumble recovery score in a 53-6 first round victory against Thunder Ridge.
For the season, Daily has 16 grabs for 273 yards and four TDs, but has 627 all-purpose yards, three forced turnovers and nine touchdowns.
"That's always been there," coach Kevin Ayers said. "He had his opportunity to shine tonight. He has been a tremendous player for us for several years, super intelligent kid, hard working. He just is a worker."
Daily's breakout performance and improvement exemplified an improved Wildcat squad from last season's 10-1 mark.
This fall, Wallace County is 10-0, ranked No. 2 in the classification in the statewide media poll, and virtually all of the six returning starters on both sides of the ball have improved.
The backfield especially went through some changes when senior Kyle Gfeller took over for four-year starter Gavin Mote at quarterback, junior Nate Klinge became the primary ball carrier and sophomore Luke Schemm moved to starting fullback.
"We got more experience in other areas. We have had guys step up in the backfield," senior lineman Clay Schemm said. "We have got Luke, he came up and has been running fullback for us. He has been doing a great job for a sophomore. Nate is flat out working his butt off at tailback, and Kyle has matured a lot at the quarterback position."
The changes moved Wallace County into Saturday's second round of the playoffs against Dighton (6-4). Start time is 3 p.m. in Dighton. The Hornets defeated Fowler 54-6 in the first round and won the third playoff game in school annals. Wallace County defeated Dighton 51-0 in the season opener.
"We have said that every game is a step, take as many steps as we can," Daily said.
The Hornets, with a 12-player roster, have improved, especially with freshman quarterback Tyler Lingg, who threw just four passes versus the Wildcats. He has now thrown for more than 800 yards. Senior Issac Alinor has more than 1,700 all-purpose yards.
"We got some turnovers early and kind of swung that momentum real quick," Ayers said. "That's a scary thing. That's definitely a team that we will not take lightly. I know coach (Ken) Simon, he is a very sound, good coach. He will have them ready to play."
Wallace County, with a plus-21 turnover margin, remains eight-man football's top defense with just 40 points allowed. Last season, the Wildcats allowed 100 points, nearly half versus the Longhorns - the third straight year Wallace County fell to Thunder Ridge in the playoffs.
This time, Wallace County held Thunder Ridge to 44 carries for 162 yards and 4 of 18 passing for 33 yards with an interception.
"Last three times that we played them, they pounded us in the A and B gap," Gfeller said, referring to the gaps between center and guard and guard and end. "So we really worked on the ends smashing down, blowing up that A gap and B gap. Coach (Jeff) Hennick was really working our butts off this week, the ends were probably getting the worst out of it."
At end, Clay Schemm had two sacks Tuesday and has nine sacks and four fumble recoveries, both team-highs. Senior end Tyrell Springsteel, a backup in 2012, is second with 7.5 sacks, leads with seven quarterback hurries and recorded seven tackles Tuesday.
Senior nose guard Dalton Walker hadn't played since Week 5 because of a knee injury, but came back with five tackles and clogged the middle. If someone got through, Luke Schemm (16 tackles) usually made the play at linebacker.
"Force it back to your brothers and help them out," Clay Schemm said. "Just helps bringing that chemistry together, because you know that if you make a mistake, you have got a brother there to help you out. If you are down or if you are hurting, there is always somebody by your side to pick you up and keep you going."
Offensively, Gfeller has recorded 523 passing yards, 596 rushing yards, 25 scores accounted for and an 118 quarterback rating. Last season, Mote had 971 passing yards, 858 rushing yards, 26 TDs accounted for and 104 quarterback rating. Versus Thunder Ridge, Gfeller had 281 total yards and four scores accounted for against no turnovers.
"He managed - and I use that as a good word - the offense really well, didn't take unnecessary risks, made the check downs, the reads that we asked him to do," Ayers said. "That's what you expect a senior quarterback to do."
Daily hauled in five passes, including three in the second half that came on wide-open routes off play-action. In the first half, he scored on a 19-yard pass. In the third quarter, he had a 25-yard TD reception and his fumble recovery.
"He is one of the hardest workers that I have ever met in my life," Gfeller said. "He comes in everyday in weights. ... It's really fun to play with knowing he is never going to quit on you and he has your back all the time. I missed some passes to him earlier in the year, which I was mad about, but I am glad that I found him tonight."