By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Whiteaker Middle School’s varsity football team stuck with what got it here.
Behind 243 rushing yards, the Wolverines defeated rival Claggett Creek 28-14 on Wednesday at McNary High School to finish the regular season undefeated.
Quarterback Braiden Copeland rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown. Hunter Ruberto added 95 yards and a touchdown.
“We have an offensive line coach and a defensive line coach in Zach Drake and Jason Walling who are amazing guys,” Whiteaker head coach Thomas Larimer said. “The kids love them and the kids play hard for them and the kids knew we were going to run inside the tackles until they turned the lights off here tonight and that’s what we did.”
Whiteaker’s longest drive, 13 plays for 93 yards, came after Claggett got within 20-14 early in the third quarter.
“It was all between the tackles and it was all by design and I’m so proud of the way the offensive line played,” Larimer said. “That 93-yard drive, I’m going to look back on that someday. I don’t know that I can ever be prouder of offensive linemen. What they did out there against a good team was so inspiring.”
Copeland finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ruberto with 8 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He then found Damon Thornton, who had five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in the game, for the successful two-point try.
After stopping Claggett on fourth-and-2 from the Wolverines 13-yard line, Whiteaker was then able to run out the clock.
The 14 points was a season low for the Panthers, who also entered the game undefeated.
“Having the Atwood’s (Mark and Luke) involved in our program is a real blessing because any time something happens on defense that makes us vulnerable, those guys immediately make adjustments,” Larimer said. “And they put kids where they need to be and they make plays. So much of that is coaching and preparation. It’s not just good athletes making good plays. Those guys are fantastic. We’re really lucky to have them.”
Quarterback Jabol Balos Mesey, a first-year football player, rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw a 40-yard touchdown to Osmid Cano Espinoza to lead Claggett’s offense.
“He’s just a super athletic kid,” Panthers head coach Aaron Carr said. “He’s the kind of kid that you could put anywhere and you wish you had 11 of him. He sees the field so well and he’s quick. Hopefully he continues to play because he’s got a bright future.”
With the win, Whiteaker (7-0) guaranteed its spot in the first Salem-Keizer Middle School Championship game on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
“Our kids came to play tonight,” Larimer said. “This is a credit to a group of wonderful, talented kids and a fantastic coaching staff. Every one of my assistants is a better coach than I am and they are even better people. I know every kid on my team and every family is better for the experience. I’m really thankful that Principal (Julia) DeWitt allows me to be a part of this program.”