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Wheatland looks to end drought
All the ribs, tri-tip and ham the Wheatland High football team could stuff down awaited them Tuesday night at the McCoy's house — the site of this week's team dinner. The night before every game, the Pirates meet at a parents' home, and the championship edition-meal was no different than any other week.
The boys showed up happy and sure didn't leave hungry. If this team has any nerves about playing Lassen tonight and trying to end a 12-year title drought, it sure didn't display itself at supper time, their coach said. Plates were cleaned and the players headed off excited and confident for tonight's 7 p.m. kickoff.
"They're pretty loose and pretty relaxed," Pirates coach Javier Lopez said.
The pleasures of staying home have sure helped. In late October, the Pirates beat Sutter at John Sohrakoff Jr. Field to clinch the Butte View League. That win helped give them the top seed in the Northern Section Division II playoffs, meaning they stayed in Yuba County and rested for the first round. When Sutter showed up again in the semifinals on Friday, the Pirates, all healed up after their bye, took down their rival for a second time on friendly property.
Now, they'll turn on the lights for a seventh time this season to face their toughest challenge yet — the defending section champion Grizzlies. Beating Sutter twice definitely provided the Pirates with some swagger, but Lassen's schedule shows it has plenty to boast about. First off: The Grizzlies can handle long trips. Their Susanville-based campus is nowhere near anybody they play, meaning even a league game requires hours in a bus on Dramamine-demanding roads. Second: They've played, and beat, some big boys. Chico, Pleasant Valley and Shasta were all victims to an offense that averages 392 yards a game from scrimmage.
Actually, a better way to show just how dangerous the Grizzlies (9-2) are is to look at their defeats. They lost to Foothill and Paradise by a total of 24 points. Both those schools are playing tonight for the Division I title.
Though the Pirates are lapping up the praise and exuding the bravado which comes with success after a decade of postseason futility, Lopez said they know it's not going to be easy. In fact, he called them the "best team they'll play all year."
"They're not weak at any position," he said.
On the defensive side, they'll need to contain Lassen quarterback Richard Murphy, who has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards and sports a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame that isn't easy to bring down. There's also a three-pronged rushing attack led by Cameron Medico (763 yards, 10 TDs), who Lopez dubbed "their version of Derick Seward."
Now of course, the Pirates have the real Derick Seward, who continues to record boffo numbers each week while carrying the Pirates offense. They just have to make sure he reaches the end zone in the first half. Wheatland's offense sputtered against Sutter before exploding after halftime last Friday. Lopez knows that can't happen if this school wants its first championship since 1998.
"We can't wait," he said. "We have to get after them right away."