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‘Rattler Fever’ sweeps through Wheeler County

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Newcomers and dedicated fans of old turning out for the Wheeler County Rattlers. The Rattlers will face Triangle Lake Lakers in the Oregon 6-Man Championship in Sisters

The Rattlers are hoping to bring the first football championship to Wheeler County since 1966

Ed Greninger was the first person from Wheeler County to arrive at Ward Rhoden Stadium in Prineville on Saturday. The longtime fan from Spray beat the dozens of other Wheeler Rattler fans that would eventually make their way into the stadium to watch the Wheeler Rattlers play the Powers Cruisers in the semi-final game for Oregon’s 6-Man playoffs.

There is no doubt – Rattler fever has swept through Wheeler County. It felt like half of Oregon’s smallest county came to watch this infectious and talented group of kids play on Saturday in Prineville. It’s a good bandwagon to jump on.

The team is undefeated (9-0) and has bulldozed opponents in the 2021 season, including Powers, who they beat 53-13 on Saturday.

But for Greninger, it is a moment he has been waiting for since the late 1970s. A super-fan who has traveled to away games for years, Greninger has seen the good, the bad and the ugly from teams in Wheeler County over the years.

Wearing a big grin beneath his long beard, Greninger said “I think we’re going to finally get one.”

By “one”, Greninger means a championship.

It has no doubt been a long wait. While Wheeler High School has won a football championship before (in 1966), the towns of Spray and Mitchell have not. There have been promising teams and exceptional athletes, but none good enough to hoist the trophy.

Dick Allen and Dennis Starr, both former coaches at Spray High School, were in attendance on Saturday and can only dream of having this Wheeler Rattler team in their coaching days.

Twenty players deep, with several kids over 200 pounds and a love for contact, it is what every coach wants. They love football. They are big. They are strong. And, yes, as Powers found out on Saturday, they are fast. But that isn’t what makes this squad so special.

“I absolutely love this group of boys,” says Rattler Assistant Coach Jon McMurray. “They’re the most respectful kids that I’ve been around. They’re loyal and hard-working. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this group of kids.”

McMurray should know, he’s been at it awhile. Having coached for twenty-five years, McMurray says that he was ready to hang it up a couple years ago after his son graduated.

“Then that first year, when Carter (Boise), Nate (Clark), Rylee (Fowke) and Tommy (Bunch) came in as freshmen, I decided to stick around until their senior year” coach McMurray says. But another group of fun and talented kids were in the class behind them. Kids like Carson Conlee, Rylee Fowke, Zach Neuberger, Oran Davis, Eli Wilkes, Linus Pullen and Lyja Whitbeck made an impact on the team and McMurray. Also joining the team was Logan Sweeney, who moved with his family from Georgia. Now, McMurray sees younger kids coming up through middle school and believes a football culture has taken hold of Wheeler County.

To say the least, he is happy that he is still coaching and that he’s part of this historic run.

Assistant Coach Jon McMurray (second from left) has more than 25 years of experience in coaching multiple sports. McMurray was ready to retire from coaching two years ago but stayed on – now he is coaching in the Oregon 6-Man Championship game. (Photo: Wheeler County Rattlers Facebook)

Led by their two seniors Clint Rutherford and Tommy Chase, the Rattlers have built a strong and tight-knit crew. They’ve come a long way from the team that was hastily assembled in 2013 after the combined team of Wheeler and Condon fell through.

That year, eight kids from Spray, Mitchell and Wheeler High School wanted to play football. So, a team was quickly put together with McMurray as their coach. Over the years, they’ve endured some hard beat-downs and blowouts. They showed signs of promise only to let games slip away. They had some heartbreakers.

But those days are in the rearview mirror, and nobody wants to go back.

This Rattlers team is formidable. The team is equally dangerous on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They also have dominated on special teams. They block well up front, led by senior Tommy Chase and sophomores Zach Neuberger and Logan Sweeney. Creating holes for strong runners Clint Rutherford and Nate Clark, the team has gobbled up yards with the run-game. When defenses overplay the run, quarterback Carter Boise airs it out.

“Carter has a great arm,” coach McMurray says. “He can put the ball anywhere he wants.”

McMurray says that the definitive game for the team came against Prairie City on September 10th, where they won 26-12. “I told the kids that if we play that kind of football, nobody can beat us.”

The Powers Cruisers made the Rattlers work for it on Saturday but when Sweeney picked up a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown as the second quarter ended, the game was sealed. The Cruisers couldn’t recover and didn’t have the depth or gas to keep up with the Rattlers, who pulled away in the second half.

Now, it’s all down to the championship match with Triangle Lake on Saturday, November 13th at 1 PM in Sisters.

You can bet that longtime supporter Ed Greninger will be there. So will the Sweeney family who relocated from Georgia last year. Between Greninger and the Sweeneys there are 1,408 people from Wheeler County. They’ll all be Rattlers on Saturday the 13th.

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