Wheeler County 6-man football advances to 1A state championship
The Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County football team has struggled in recent years to be competitive.
However, all that changed this year, as the Rattlers are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A six-man football division.
When the OSAA gave 1A schools the option of playing either eight man or six man football on a trial basis, the Rattlers still struggled, going 1-8 and 1-6 the first two years after the change.
"The kids have just put in the work to be this good of a team," head coach Jerry Anderson said. "They do what the coaches are asking them to do and they are playing really good football."
Two weekends back, the Rattlers took a giant step forward as they won their first playoff game in several years, a 52-6 thrashing of Jewell.
This past Saturday, the Rattlers took another step forward as they defeated Powers 53-13 at a game in Prineville, earning a trip to the six-man state championships where they will compete against Triangle Lake, a 54-14 victor over Alsea in the other semifinal matchup.
Although the final score looked like a blowout, that doesn't mean that everything came easily for the Rattlers.
For fans of 11-man football there are a few rule differences that need to be noted to understand six-man football. To begin with, the field is narrower than a regulation field. In addition, whoever the ball is snapped to can not run the ball, which leads to a lot of laterals so that a player can either pass or run. In addition, all six players are eligible receiver, while quarters are just 10 minutes. Finally, on extra point attempts, a kick is worth two points, while a pass or run is worth a single point.
The Powers Cruisers kicked the opening kickoff out of bounds. After a five-yard penalty, Powers kicked off again. This time, Oran Davis took the kick and raced down the field all the way to the 26-yard line, giving the Rattlers great field position to start the game.
Two consecutive runs by Clint Rutherford picked up seven yards, leaving the Rattlers with a third and eight. Nate Clark blasted around left end for an 11-yard pickup, but a block in the back set the Rattlers back, leaving them with a third and 14 on the 25-yard line.
Davis carried the ball to the 15-yard line, leaving the Rattlers with a fourth and five.
From there, Rutherford dropped back to pass and hit Clark in the corner of the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. Carter Boise carried the ball across the goal line for the extra point, and the Rattlers led 7-0 just a minute and a half into the game.
Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County then attempted an onside kick, but Powers recovered on the 50-yard line. Six plays later, Rene Sears carried the ball across the goal line from 22 yards out. Sears then converted the extra point, and the game was tied with 5:37 left in the first quarter.
On their next possession, the Rattlers turned the ball over on downs on the Powers 47-yard line. The Cruisers were unable to move the ball either, and dropped back to punt. However, Alex Mahmoud was unable to get the kick off, and was tackled all the way back on the Powers 28-yard line.
The Rattlers quickly took advantage of the good field possession as Rutherford scored on a 14-yard scamper, just two plays later. Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County came up just short on the conversion attempt, but the Rattlers still led 13-7 with 1:49 remaining in the quarter.
The first turnover of the game gave the Rattlers the chance to open up a bigger lead when Logan Sweeney recovered a fumble just seconds later on the Powers 37-yard line. However, in three plays, the Rattlers gained just eight yards and the first quarter ended with Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County looking at a fourth-and-seven from the 28-yard line.
An encroachment call moved the ball to the 23-yard line. From there, Rutherford carried the ball to the seven-yard line. One play later, Clark carried the ball across the goal line. Once again, the conversion attempt was no good, but the Rattlers led 19-7 with 9:37 remaining in the first half.
Just when it looked like the Rattlers were going to pull away, Powers came storming back. A pass from Sears to Patrick Mahmoud moved the ball all the way to the Rattler three-yard line. Two plays later, Alex Mahmoud carried the ball across the goal line from five-yards out. The extra point attempt failed, but the Cruisers were back in the ball game, trailing just 19-13 with 7:45 left in the half.
After a short kick, Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County took possession on their own 45. On the first play from scrimmage, Clark carried the ball around the left end, and looked like he might score, but a hustling Powers player managed to knock the ball out of his hand on about the 14-yard line. The ball rolled to near the end zone, then rolled to a stop on the sideline. After a short huddle, the officials determined that the ball hit the pylon prior to hitting the sideline, giving the Cruisers a touchback and the ball on the 20-yard line.
Three plays later, Powers punted, but Clark muffed the short punt. Alex Mahmoud scooped up the ball for the Cruisers and raced into the end zone. However, muffed punts cannot be advanced. That became the turning point of the game. Instead of being tied 19-19, Powers had the ball on their own 30-yard line.
Four plays later, Powers shanked a punt, which rolled out of bounds on the Cruiser 35-yard line. Two plays after that, Rutherford carried the ball across the goal line for a 20-yard touchdown. The kick attempt was no good, but the Rattlers had stretched the lead to 25-13.
"That's one of my most experienced players," Anderson said of Clark muffing the punt. "He should have known not to do it, but I guess we need to practice that some more. But, we played tough defense and didn't let them score after that happened. They just kept playing hard."
Powers struggled to move the ball the rest of the game, while the Rattlers began to impose their will on the Cruisers and moved the ball rather easily.
After Powers turned the ball over on downs, Clark scored on a 50-yard run. The kick failed again, but the Rattlers led 31-13 with 1:32 remaining in the first half.
Powers moved the ball all the way to the Rattler 10-yard line before the end of the half. But Sears was sacked on the last play of the half, and fumbled the ball. Sweeney scooped up the fumble and raced 75-yards for the Rattlers for another Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County touchdown. The kick was blocked, but the Rattlers went into the half leading 37-13.
The Rattlers scored again on their first possession of the second half on a 21-yard run by Clark. The kick by Nils Lahme was good and Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County led 45-13 midway through the third quarter.
Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County scored one final touchdown, with 2:45 left in the third quarter on a 11-yard run by Rutherford. The kick by Lahme was good and the Rattlers led 53-13.
With Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County leading by 40, the remainder of the game was running time.
The Rattlers pulled out their starters, while Powers, who only had nine players suited for the game, was forced to continue play at least some of their starters.
Neither team scored again, as the Rattlers did a good job of running time off the clock.
As the clock hit zero and the final buzzer sounded, a crowd of Rattler fans stormed the field in celebration as Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County advanced to the state championship.
"We were ready for them," said Clark, who ran for 175 yards on 10 carries and scored four touchdowns for the Rattlers. "We knew they were undefeated in the state and we were too, so we knew it was going to be a tough game. We came out hitting hard, just making them tired. Really just shutting them down on the line and getting sacks in the backfield. Our line are the key to us running the football. They open our holes. Mission accomplished for our line."
Rutherford also had a big game, carrying the ball 10 times for 98 yards, throwing a touchdown pass, and running for three touchdowns.
"I never thought we would ever be at state," he said. "But, we all just worked as a team. I feel like overall it was a good game. We started off a little rough, but we got it back together."
"Overall they played well. We had a few mistakes that cost us, and gave us a test here and there, but the kids just kept playing hard and playing Rattler football," he said. "The kids have just put in the work to be this good of a team. They do what the coaches are asking them to do and they are playing really good football."
As a team the Rattlers amassed 303 rushing yards in the game, while holding Powers to just 107 yards of total offense.
Although the score of the second game was almost identical to the Rattler contest, Triangle Lake got there in a very different way. The Lakers, who are now 5-2, avenged an earlier 33-19 league loss to Alsea, jumping out to a 27-2 lead at the end of the first quarter, and a 33-2 halftime lead, before holding on for the victory.
Like Powers, the Lakers suited just nine players on Saturday, however, they featured a potent ground game, and showed the ability to pass when necessary. Triangle Lake had reached the semifinals by defeating Eddyville Charter 43-13 in the first round of the playoffs.
The location of the championship game has not yet been announced. However, Anderson promises that the Rattlers will be ready wherever the game is played.
"We are going to play hard-nosed and do what it takes to win," he said. "It's all about winning."
"We just have been wanting this for a long time, and right now a state championship is all we want," Clark added.
Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County 53, Powers 13
At Ward Rhoden Stadium in Prineville
Powers 7 6 0 0 â€“ 13
Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler County 13 24 16 0 â€“ 53
M/S/W â€“ Clint Rutherford 15-yard pass to Nate Clark, Carter Boise run good.
P â€“ Rene Sears 22-yard run. Sears run good.
M/S/W â€“ Rutherford 14-yard run. Pass no good.
M/S/W â€“ Clark 7-yard run. Run failed.
P â€“ Alex Mahmoud 5-yard run. Run failed.
M/S/W â€“ Rutherford 20-yard run. Nils Lahme kick failed.
M/S/W â€“ Clark 50-yard run. Lahme kick failed.
M/S/W â€“ Logan Sweeney 75-yard fumble return. Lahme kick failed.
M/S/W â€“ Clark 21-yard run. Lahme kick good.
M/S/W â€“ Rutherford 11-yard run. Lahme kick good.
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