Under the lights at McNary High School and in front of the biggest crowd in memory for a middle school football game, the Whiteaker Wolverines heavyweight football team capped off an historic undefeated season with a win over rival Claggett Creek Middle School.
“First, I want to thank all three principals who made this happen: Julia Dewitt (WMS), Rob Schoepper (CC), and Eric Jesperson (MHS). It is great to win this game, because Claggett has had Whiteaker’s number for a while now. But what’s better than the win is this atmosphere—the color guard, the band, and the stands filled. Keizer came out and really made every one of these kids—on both teams—feel special tonight,” said Tom Larimer, Whiteaker head coach.
Immediately after the game, McNary Head Coach Jeff Auvinen gathered all the players together at midfield, saying, “I saw some great players out here tonight representing two rivalry schools—Whiteaker and Claggett—but now you are all one team. You are McNary’s future team. Tonight you played hard, but now the rivalry is over. You are all teammates now.”
The game was all Whiteaker from the get-go. Whiteaker, which never trailed at any time the entire season, scored on its first play from scrimmage when wide receiver Junior Walling took a flanker sweep and followed blocks by Joel Knight and Nico Sandoval to go 58 yards nearly untouched to paydirt.
“As good as Junior is — and he is the most talented middle school back I have ever seen — that play is so successful because of our offensive line: Josh Patton, Nate Young, Sion Springer, Andrew Shaw and Malakai Vasseur, and the unsung star of this team: H-back Joseph Fowler,” said Larimer. “Three of our starting O-line had never played football before this season, but you wouldn’t know it.”
Minutes after Walling’s touchdown, all three starting Wolverine linebackers—Walling, Brian Schindler and Fowler—combined on a fourth down stop to force CCMS to turn the ball over on downs. Speedster Nico Sandoval took a toss to the left and scampered 60 yards untouched for Whiteaker’s second score.
Sandoval recovered a Claggett fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and quarterback Erik Barker hit wideout Riley Flores with a 40-yard touchdown pass. A second consecutive fumbled kickoff recovered by Noah Lelack gave WMS the ball right back on the Claggett 40-yard line. Barker led a four-play touchdown drive that ended with a perfectly thrown 26-yard strike to Walling, and the two-point conversion run by Layton Thurlow gave the Wolverines a 28-0 lead.
WMS defensive coordinator Kurt Walling said, “Many people don’t understand how much intensity and emotion can help get a team off to a good start. Our kids made a commitment to each other to take the momentum in that game and, once they did, they never looked back.”
Larimer credited his son, Offensive Coordinator Marcus Larimer, for his work with the offense.
“Marcus has a great offensive mind. He has a sixth sense for what to run, and I don’t worry because I know we have done literally hundreds of controlled, technique based reps on every one of our plays, so each guy knows his job on each play and executes it properly,” said T. Larimer.
M. Larimer credited the student-athletes for their work.
“That preparation and commitment by my kids allows me to run almost any play in any situation and know the kids are ready to execute it properly,” said M. Larimer.
The offense was sharp, both on the ground and in the air. Barker completed four of six passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns, while backup quarterback Layton Thurlow added a 65-yard second quarter touchdown strike to Riley Flores.
Thurlow, fresh off being named a team captain for his unselfish play, made the most of his big night, adding a 56-yard touchdown run of his own. He also recorded a quarterback sack when the Claggett wideout could not shake the tight coverage of defensive back Anthony Rice.
Nine different Wolverines carried the ball, but none more than twice. Walling had 66 yards rushing, Thurlow 63 and Sandoval 60. Flores led all receivers with two catches for 107 yards and two scores. The defense was led by Schindler and Fowler’s 10 tackles apiece, with Nate Young adding nine and Walling eight.
“Undefeated? I still can hardly process it. I remember our first practice like it was yesterday,” said T. Larimer. “Eleven of my 25 players had never played football before, and half of them took one look at Junior and Fowler and Young and were scared to death. But my staff—Marcus and Coach Barker, as well as my main assistant Angel Ochoa and line coaches Jason Walling and Zach Drake (another former Whiteaker and McNary captain) were amazing from day one—they created a culture based on technique, teaching, repetition and pure positive reaffirmation, and the kids completely bought in.”
“Before the game tonight I asked my kids if they cared enough about their teammates to give their very best on the biggest stage—and that’s exactly what they did.”
J. Walling added, “This season is the result of players and coaches who are fully committed to a common cause.”
Submitted by Tom Larimer