By Mark Schremmer, for Kpreps.com
Posted: November 14, 2012 - 7:37 AM
Yes, technically it’s a rematch. The Thunder Ridge Longhorns will meet the Baileyville B&B Falcons in the 8-Man Division II state championship game at Newton for the second consecutive season.
However, Baileyville B&B coach Justin Coup said revenge from last year’s 46-14 loss to Thunder Ridge isn’t a factor entering Saturday’s state title game.
“It’s a rematch because it’s Thunder Ridge vs. Baileyville,” Coup said. “But after that, this is a new year with two different groups of kids.
“Our motivation isn’t rematch or revenge. What’s more important for our kids is to play better than last year and to perform better on Saturday. The motivation isn’t different because it’s Thunder Ridge.”
With that said, both teams are back in Newton with the state title on the line even though each team has taken different paths to get there.
Despite being the defending state champions, Thunder Ridge opened the 2012 season ranked fourth in 8-Man Division II.
The Longhorns returned only two starters on each side of the ball, and the losses included All-State Top 11 running back Joel Struckhoff and all but one offensive lineman.
Then, the Longhorns opened their season with a disappointing 62-16 loss to Mankato-Rock Hills.
But Thunder Ridge (11-1) maintained its focus.
“I told the kids that it was just one game,” Thunder Ridge coach Jerry Voorhees said. “We had a lot of new faces. I told them that last year is over and that we can’t win any games off last year’s success.”
The Longhorns quickly bounced back with a 58-12 win at Pike Valley. Since the season-opening loss, Thunder Ridge has won 11 consecutive games by the average score of 52.9 to 9.6. The Longhorns enter the title game coming off a 44-22 win over previously unbeaten Sharon Springs-Wallace Co.
“I don’t know if I have been around a group that has worked this hard every week,” Voorhees said. “You always talk about getting better every week, but with this team you can visibly see them take a step forward every single week.”
A lot of Thunder Ridge’s offensive success starts with running back Trevor Lowe, who has rushed for 1,527 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
“I don’t know if I’ve been around a kid who works as hard as Trevor works,” Voorhees said. “I don’t know that he’s ever been beat during a sprint in conditioning. Trevor knows only one speed and that’s as hard as he can.”
While Struckhoff was the focal point of the offense last year, Lowe came on at the right time. He ran for more than 100 yards in three consecutive playoff games, including the state championship against Baileyville.
“Obviously, it will be a challenge,” Coup said. “We didn’t stop him last year. So we want to get another crack at him. Trevor is a powerful runner. We’ll have to be ready to go and play more fundamental football.”
Baileyville (12-0) opened the season as the top-ranked team in the classification with four starters returning on each side of the ball. The Falcons have maintained that ranking all year, opening the season with a 34-22 win over Madison, the 2011 8-Man Division I state champions.
The Falcons have continued that success with wins over the likes of Pretty Prairie and Axtell. B&B also beat rival Hanover twice, including this past week’s 50-20 semifinal win.
Baileyville’s offense starts with junior quarterback Dustin Rottinghaus, who has passed for 1,212 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 509 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“He played in the state championship last year,” Voorhees said. “He’s definitely gotten bigger and better. He throws the ball very well and he runs the ball very well. We have to put some pressure on him. We can’t let him stand back there and throw the football all day on us.”
Baileyville’s leading rusher is Dustin Deters. The 5-10, 175-pound fullback, who converted from the offensive line, has rushed for 952 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“Last year, he was a left guard so that probably explains his running style a little,” Coup said. “We decided to move him to fullback and it’s been a good move for us. He’s one of the hardest runners I’ve been around. He’s not going to try and make you miss. He’s going to run straight ahead.”
Entering the game with winning streaks of 12 and 11 respectively, both teams feel like they are playing their best football.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Coup said. “We’re 100 percent healthy. I feel like we’re playing our best football, but I’m thinking Thunder Ridge is playing its best football as well. I think both teams are at their optimal levels right now.”