8-man state: Wallace County's Ayers putting in extra time
By CONOR NICHOLL
Wallace County High School head football coach Kevin Ayers is long known for his game preparation and hours upon hours of study. For the first time this fall, Ayers is not teaching. Instead, he is working for a farmer. Ayers, 152-26 in his career with three state titles, has had to change his preparation some this week for Saturday's Eight-Man Division II state championship game against 11-1 Baileyville-B&B. Start time is 3:30 p.m. at Newton's Fischer Field.
Ayers' farm has allowed him some more time off this week. He took off Monday to study and prepare and has woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get in more work. As well, when Ayers has gaps or time in the day, he's usually working on Saturday's contest.
"A scouting report from Coach Ayers has you ready to play a game and ready for almost anything that they throw at you," senior lineman Clay Schemm said.
"We will be going through and he will say, 'Make sure you watch for this, they have only ran it once, but we want to be ready for it.' It's nice to know that he has prepared you for anything."
Throughout the week, Wallace County has simply studied and focused for Saturday; Schemm called it just like another game week. Ayers hasn't brought up the other angle that the rest of Kansas is focused on. Saturday represents the last football game in Baileyville B&B history. The Falcons, at state for the sixth straight year, are looking to win its fourth state crown in that span and fifth overall. B&B will consolidate with Seneca-Nemaha Valley and form Nemaha Central next season.
"We haven't talked about it at all," Ayers said. "We have focused so much on taking care of the things that we control, focus on what we do and how we prepare for them."
Wallace County is 2-0 all-time in state games with titles in 1991 and 2007.
Ayers, in his eighth year with the Wildcats, also won crowns in '01 and '03 with Jetmore. A victory will tie Ayers for second place on the all-time list for state titles for eight-man coaches. Mark Martin and Mark Juhl, brothers-in-law, won four apiece at Midway-Denton from 1981-2000. The late Jerry Slaton won six titles at Hanston from 1989-2004 and was Ayers' main rival at Jetmore.
"I think that would just be a tribute to the type of players that I have had, and been very blessed to coach some tremendous kids, and have some great assistants at my side," Ayers said of a fourth title. "Each and everyone is different. The biggest thing, I just want to see this team hoist that trophy and those kids to have that feeling of what it feels like to be a state champion."
Both teams are experienced. Wallace County has seven seniors, six who start. The Falcons have a 27-player roster with eight seniors.
"It's been fun to watch as we have went through the season," Ayers said. "They have grown closer and closer and that doesn't always happen within a season. Sometimes things happen and teams drift apart, but this team has definitely become closer, and I think that is a big reason for our success."
The Falcons, led by senior quarterback Dustin Rottinghaus, pace Eight-Man, Division II with 618 points per contest. Wallace County has eight-man's No. 1 scoring defense with 52 points allowed and have scored 506 points. Both teams have played a hard schedule; Wallace County has the No. 6 SOS, Baileyville No. 11 according to preppowerindex.com. Rottinghaus has completed 135 of 232 passes for 2,262 yards with 41 touchdowns against six interceptions.
No Falcon has more than 500 rushing yards; Rottinghaus ranks second with 95 carries for 380 yards and 13 TDs. Senior Blake Deters leads the team with 54 catches for 1,033 yards and 20 scores, and senior Cameron Haug has 45 catches for 836 yards and 13 TDs.
'They do a tremendous job of spreading the ball around, just a lot of different weapons and a lot of different formations, offensive sets, motions, things they do to get kids open, so they are just very tough to prepare for," Ayers said.
Wallace County has built its defense in two key areas: turnover margin and run defense. The Wildcats have 10 non-offensive touchdowns, forced 27 turnovers and have a plus-24 turnover margin. In the playoffs, Wallace County has held teams to 86.3 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry.
In the last two weeks, Dighton and Beloit/St. John's-Tipton have combined for 32 of 54 passing for 423 yards with one score and one interception. Last week, Blujay all-state junior quarterback Trey Dubbert threw for 272 yards, but on 36 attempts. Ayers said the Wildcats had a "bend but not break" approach throughout the game and need to "do a little bit better job" this Saturday.
"Coverage-wise, we were in places to make plays," Ayers said. "He hit some very tight windows."
The Wildcats have several links to the '07 state team. Assistant coach Jeff Hennick was the quarterback that fall.
Schemm, in sixth grade that year, remembers watching the season, especially a last-second 26-22 victory against Bushton/Quivira Heights in sub-state. This year, Wallace County has won all but two games by at least 16 points, but sometimes the team doesn't play up to its potential.
Last week, Schemm said the team played well in the second half against St. John's-Tipton, but wasn't on "all cylinders" in the first half.
"Against Quivira Heights, my dad was sitting next to me, and he talked to me about don't get your head down when we are down with 30 seconds left, because right now, those boys out there are having to fight that," Schemm said. "It was cool to see them fight that and end up winning that game."
Since then, Ayers has remained the biggest constant. Through the constant preparedness, Ayers has made the playoffs all eight years with Wallace County, won double-digit games four times and looks for another ring Saturday.
"It's nice to see that he can communicate with us in whatever situation we are in," Schemm said.
"When we were out at Hoxie (in a 36-28 Week 2 win), and we were getting down a little bit, he was able to communicate to us and help us have confidence in ourselves during the game.
"It's nice to have a coach talk to you during practice and help encourage you through those tough parts and why they are doing things and not just say, 'Go do this, because I said so,'" he added.