Opinion: Wheeler County six-man football is worth the road trip
Congratulations are in order for the Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler football team.
The Rattlers have just completed a perfect 10-0 season, including an unofficial state championship in six-man football.
Six-man football is still being run on a trial basis by the OSAA as traditionally 1A schools have played eight-man football. The state is still sanctioning eight-man football and holding an official state championship in that sport. Given time it is likely that the OSAA will also hold an official state championship in six-man football as well.
Although the title technically isn't an official state championship, what the Rattlers have accomplished is amazing. It was just a couple of years ago that the team won only one game. And, let's be clear, running a co-op sports program has difficulties, especially in a sport like football. In indoor sports you can practice after dark. That is not true of football, unless the schools involved have lights on their fields. As for the Wheeler County co-op team, none of the three schools have lights.
It is 32 miles from Fossil to Spray, 36.6 miles from Spray to Mitchell, and 44.2 miles from Mitchell to Fossil. That means that on a daily basis, players spent as long as an hour and a half on a bus, just to get to and from practice. That makes what the Rattlers have accomplished that much better.
The team had players from all three high schools, players that made strong contributions to the title. This was fully a Wheeler County achievement.
Not only did the team go undefeated, they outscored their opponents 462-102 on the season. The Rattlers were even better in the playoffs, outscoring opponents 135-19. In the state championship, the Rattlers whipped Triangle Lake 30-0, a team that had averaged 47 points a game.
Holding an opponent, any opponent scoreless in six-man football is an accomplishment, as there is so much space to run in, and scores are often in the 50s or higher, even for the losing team. Head coach Jerry Anderson, who has coached some team members since they were sixth graders, has done an amazing job turning the program around.
The Rattlers should be good again next year. The team does lose a handful of foreign exchange students, but graduate just four seniors. Of those four players, Nils Lahme, Diego Rincon Mimbela, Thomas Chase, and Clint Rutherford, only Rutherford played a significant role in the Rattler offense. Although those seniors — Rutherford in particular — will be missed, the team has a number of solid contributors returning, including Nate Clark, Logan Sweeney, Tommy Bunch, Carter Boise and Zachary Neuberger. Chances are I've missed somebody as I only saw the Rattlers play once this year, their 53-13 victory over Powers in the state semifinals.
The Rattlers could have used their speed on trick plays, or spread formations. Instead, they played straight football, limiting laterals, trick plays and the like to a minimum, choosing to just line up and beat their opponent.
In addition to the Rattlers, other teams to watch for next year include: Powers; Alsea, who lost to Triangle Lake in the semifinals; Jewell; Triangle Lake; and Prairie City/Burnt River.
I love six-man football. It is fast. The rules encourage scoring, and make for some diverse and perhaps even crazy offensive formations. Every player on the field is an eligible receiver, and the player who receives the snap from center cannot run with the ball. The end result is that teams frequently lateral the ball, to make it possible for a player to either run or pass. Extra point attempts are also an adventure. What would be a two-point conversion in 11-man football is worth just one point, while kicking the extra point is worth two as it is so difficult to protect a kicker. In addition, the game lends itself to split formations and wide-open play, including frequent on-side kicks and fake punts. A single fast player can lead to what sometimes looks more like a track meet than a traditional football game.
But, that doesn't mean that it isn't still football. The hitting is still there. Blocking is still important, and special teams are at a premium. Every kick or punt is a possible touchdown for the receiving team as there is so much space on the field for six players to cover on defense. With 10-minute quarters, instead of the traditional 12, the six-man game goes quickly.
If you get a chance to see the Rattlers play next year, take advantage of the opportunity. It is more than worth the effort to travel to Mitchell, or Spray, or Fossil to see a game. So, once again: congratulations to the Rattlers, and good luck again next year.
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