Whittell’s ‘Man of Steele’ scores TD in victory over Smith Valley (video)
Warriors clinch playoff berth
The Whittell Warriors football team and strong fan base roared Thursday night when senior Steele Wetterer jogged onto the gridiron in the fourth quarter at South Tahoe Middle School.
The Warriors had their game against Smith Valley well in hand and moments before Wetterer ran into the huddle, head coach Phillip Bryant met the Bulldogs head coach Todd Sceirine at midfield with a couple minutes remaining. The two chatted, then hugged each other and jogged back to their respective sidelines. It was a strange sight at first with the Warriors leading the Bulldogs 62-12.
While the Warriors were taking three knees to run time off the clock, coaches and players got Wetterer, the Warriors’ autistic team manager, ready to go in the game. Junior Alex Gonzalez quickly took off his shoulder pads. Assistant coach Doug Patton strapped those pads onto Wetterer and he was ready to go.
On the last play of the game, Wetterer took a hand-off from quarterback Isaiah Womack, cut to the outside and ran down the sideline in front of the home bench and into the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.
“I think it shows love, compassion, sportsmanship and integrity and all the things that are way beyond the game itself,” Bryant said. “The win is great but what happened in the last few seconds was way more significant in the big picture. Steel is a big part of us. It’s just five seconds, but its five seconds that could be the biggest five seconds of his high school life.”
While Wetterer was running for his touchdown, the Warriors’ sideline was going berserk.
“It’s the first time he’s ever been on the field,” said Warriors senior and co-captain Connor Huber. “You see videos of things like that happening and to see it, it was amazing.”
“It was a good experience for him and us,” said senior co-captain Nic Buchholz. “Even the players that don’t play much are a big part of this team. Everyone matters here.”
The Warriors postgame celebration on the field in their regular season finale was longer than the second half. The cheerleaders performed. The team and cheerleaders gathered to sing the school’s fight song. They huddled and danced, and even the coaches showed off their dancing skills, or lack there of. Then the players dispersed to clean the equipment off the field they called home this season while the stadium at their high school is being renovated.
Smith Valley was already getting on the bus to head home.
“It’s probably the best way we could’ve gone out as seniors,” Buchholz said. “It was a fun game. It was good to have a lot of fans out here and a good way for us to come back after the Virginia City game, especially heading into playoffs.”
The Warriors clinched their playoff berth early.
Womack ran for a 56-yard touchdown on the third play of the game.
Dalton Warswick went 62 yards the next time the Warriors had the ball.
Womack scored early in the second quarter on an 85-yard sprint down the sideline.
A couple minutes later, Womack hit Buchholz on a deep pass down the middle for a 59-yard touchdown.
Corey Huber returned a kickoff 82 yards for a score after Smith Valley got on the board.
And Buchholz finished the scoring in the first half with a 25-yard fumble return for touchdown.
If plays counted as points, Smith Valley would have dominated Whittell. At halftime, the Warriors had scored seven touchdowns and ran just nine offensive plays. The Bulldogs snapped the ball 41 times in the first half and trailed 46-6.
“It was a good bounce back game,” Huber said. “It was tough losing to VC so it was a good win for us.”
Womack scored his third touchdown on a 22-yard burst in the third quarter and freshman Jack White scored midway through the fourth quarter to make it 62-6.
Womack finished with 160 yards on just four carries and also completed three passes for 71 yards.
Smith Valley added its second touchdown and, after, Bryant set up his plan with Sceirine.
The Warriors will head back to Eureka for the first round of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association 1A Northern playoffs. The warriors defeated Eureka 56-7 in the first game of the season, but also came out of that game dinged up.
“They are pretty physical and their quarterback is a real physical runner,” Bryant said. “They’re big and we’ve had trouble with size.”
But win or lose, the Warriors will do it together.
“This is a family, not just a team,” Buchholz said. “That’s probably why we play so well, we’ve got each others backs on and off the field. It’s a lot of fun, it’s good vibes and a good time all around.”