By CONOR NICHOLL
In Week 6, Wallace County-Sharon Springs fell, 30-28, to traditional power Victoria. The Knights currently remain undefeated and are ranked third in Eight-Man, Division II.
Wallace County had reached the playoffs every season from ’06-16, including a state championship and a runner-up. However, the Wildcats were a combined 12-30 with no winning seasons in the last five falls.
Wallace County opened 4-1 this year. The Victoria loss showed more evidence of the Wildcat turnaround under first-year head coach Kyle Gfeller, along with assistants Landon Johnson and Dennis Gfeller.
Kyle was a first team all-state player and the starting quarterback on the ’13 runner-up squad. A week after the game, Victoria coach Doug Oberle and his team offered multiple compliments to the improved Wildcats, including a playoff-type atmosphere.
Wallace County has an experienced team paced by senior quarterback Cade Johnson and running back Tyler Korbe. In addition to his dual threat ability, Johnson is a tremendous blocker – a rare trait for a quarterback.
“Their kids played extremely hard,” Oberle said. “I thought they were well-coached. … You give a lot of credit to Sharon. They made us play not as well as we could.”
Since then, Wallace County has posted a 3-1 record. After a 49-0 win against Logan-Palco, WC lost the district championship game, 42-6, at Thunder Ridge.
In the postseason, the Wildcats beat Central Plains, 48-0, in Week 9. Last week, Wallace County defeated a quality Bucklin squad, 56-8, in an Eight-Man, Division II Round of 16 matchup.
Wallace County will host its third straight contest against No. 5 Dighton (10-0) in the state quarterfinals Friday. Wallace County (7-3) is the biggest surprise in Division II, and along with 6A Olathe Northwest and 3A Columbus, probably the three biggest surprises left among Kansas’ 72 remaining teams.
In Week 9, Bucklin beat previously undefeated Stafford. The Red Aces had averaged 40.4 points a contest. Bucklin defeated Wallace County, 38-14, in the 2021 playoffs.
Of the other seven Division II squads, six were in at least the quarterfinals last year. The seventh is Osborne, which won the state title in 2019 and went 6-3 last fall.
Last season, Wallace County was 3-6, including 0-4 at home. The Wildcats scored 27.6 points per game and permitted 41. This year, WC has scored 36.6 points a contest.
The Wildcats are the most improved defense in all of Division II. WC has allowed 14.4 points a contest. All eight remaining Division II squads have allowed between 6.2 and 14.6 points per contest, per SIK research and the KPreps database.
Wallace County returned Johnson, Korbe, lineman Braden McKain, Ace Edwards and Jaren Rains, along with defensive backs Kean Dinkel and Travis Korbe.
Johnson, Tyler Korbe, Dinkel, and McKain are the captains.
Johnson recorded nearly 1,300 yards of total offense and 121 tackles as a junior, and Tyler Korbe rushed for 839 yards.
Against Bucklin, Wallace County’s offense included Johnson at quarterback, Tyler Korbe at running back, Edwards at fullback and McKain at center.
Plus, junior Tharyan Applehans was at tight end/H-back, and Rains at guard.
Junior Brenton Welsh has started up front, and junior Cade Funk at wide receiver.
The defensive line had Tyler Korbe, Welsh, Edwards and Applehans. Johnson, Ethan Korbe and Dinkel are at defensive back.
Against Bucklin, Tyler Korbe enjoyed a huge game.
On WC’s first touchdown, Korbe received a carry, came behind an Edwards block and fumbled the ball. The ball ricocheted right back to Korbe, who ran in for a 23-yard touchdown.
On the next drive, Dinkel had a pass breakup on first down, and Johnson delivered a breakup in the possession. Bucklin had an open receiver on fourth down, but Applehans’ pressure forced an incomplete pass.
Then, Funk had a nice catch to set up a 31-yard touchdown run from Korbe. Johnson pitched right to Korbe and served as a lead blocker. WC led 12-0 with 6:03 left in the first quarter.
Bucklin punted, and pinned WC at its own two-yard line. On the first play, Johnson pitched to Korbe, ran out in front, blocked and sprung his teammate for a 78-yard touchdown run. They pitched again for the two-point conversion and 20-0 lead.
Korbe brought pressure and delivered a quarterback hurry on a Bucklin fourth down. Late in the first quarter, WC faced 3rd-and-20 from its own 16-yard line. Bucklin vacated the middle, Johnson saw the opening and went 62 yards. Wallace County scored on the next play and led 28-0 after the first.
**Special thanks to Open Spaces Sports for game film/broadcast that SIK reviewed.