Wheeler County wins 6-man football state championship
Wheeler County finished off a perfect season on Saturday, beating the Lakers of Triangle Lake 30-0 to win the Oregon 1A 6-Man Football State Championship.
The Rattlers, a joint team made up of players from the high schools in Fossil, Mitchell and Spray, ended up with an undefeated record of 10-0 this season. While Wheeler High School has won a state title in football before, this was the first championship for both Mitchell and Spray.
With the stakes as high as they've ever been for Wheeler County football, the community came out in droves to support their team at Sisters High School. Signs reading 'Rattler Nation' filled the SHS bleachers, as a contingent of well over 100 fans cheered loudly for their boys.
"Look at all the people here that came," said Wheeler County head coach Jerry Anderson after the Rattlers' victory. "We've had so many people from our community here. We're the smallest county in Oregon. For us to represent for all them, it's fantastic. Just really fantastic."
The fan support was felt all the way down onto the field, according to Wheeler County running back Clint Rutherford.
"It was awesome," said the senior. "This is the most fans that have ever showed up to one of our games, so it pumped us up a lot. We had a lot of fun and played our hearts out."
As for the opponent sharing the field with the Rattlers, Rutherford praised the Triangle Lake players but also noted that Wheeler County had more desire.
"(The Lakers) were really strong coming out," said Rutherford, "but it just came down to who wanted it more."
Anderson also had good things to say about Triangle Lake.
"They didn't make it here by happenstance," said the coach. They're a good team, they hit hard, they're well-coached. But we just had too many good athletes and good football players for them to keep up with us."
That desire showed up on both sides of the ball for Wheeler County. The Rattlers jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead on the first drive of the game. Junior quarterback Carter Boise hit fellow junior Nate Clark in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick, which is worth two points in 6-man football, was converted by senior Nils Lahme, an exchange student from Germany.
In the second quarter, Wheeler County sophomore Logan Sweeney fell on a fumble that was forced by junior Tommy Bunch, giving the Rattlers possession near midfield. After a few successful running plays, bruising sophomore Zachary Neuberger ran the ball in for a 13-yard score. Lahme added another kick to make the score 16-0.
The Rattlers kept their foot on the gas pedal, successfully recovering an onside kick to gain another first-half possession. Boise threw his second touchdown pass of the game to cap that drive, hitting Rutherford for a 21-yard score. After another Lahme kick, the Rattlers led 24-0 at halftime.
The scoring slowed down considerably in the second half, as the Wheeler County defense bent but never broke against Triangle Lake. The Lakers had a good scoring opportunity in the third quarter, but a well-timed pass breakup from Carter Boise led to a turnover on downs. The Rattlers forced two more turnovers in the second half, with Neuberger recovering a fumble and Clark grabbing an interception.
It was the strongest defensive performance of the season for the Rattlers, said Anderson.
"Our first shutout all year," said the coach. "We've been holding teams to six points, 12 points. But to do this in the championship game, it shows what good football players these are and what a good team we have."
Rutherford led the Rattlers in yards from scrimmage, rushing for 155 yards on the ground and gaining another 27 through the air on his way to two touchdowns. Clark had 94 yards rushing and was the team's leading receiver with five catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Boise was 8-of-11 passing for Wheeler County, accounting for 80 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Neuberger had only three touches on offense, but the 6'3" bulldozer averaged 13 yards per play on those touches.
It will be hard for Wheeler County to follow up on perfection, but the Rattlers will bring back all but three players next season. Rutherford, Lahme and fellow senior Thomas Chase went out on the highest of notes, hoisting the state championship in their final game for Wheeler County.
Wheeler County 30, Triangle Lake 0
at Sisters High School
TL — 0 0 0 0 — 0
WC — 8 16 6 0 — 30
WC — Carter Boise 19-yard pass to Nate Clark (Nils Lahme kick)
WC — Zachary Neuberger 13-yard run (Nils Lahme kick)
WC — Carter Boise 21-yard pass to Clint Rutherford (Nils Lahme kick)
WC — Clint Rutherford 20-yard run
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