Farwell draws longtime 1A power Wheeler

Farwell senior Jason Johnson threw three touchdown passes in last week’s playoff-clinching 46-7 win over Bovina. CNJ photo by Rick White.

Dave Wagner

At the end of a quarter-century run of Texas small-school football excellence, Wheeler is preparing to make the transition to the six-man in 2004.

Meantime, the Farwell Steers bring an 8-1 record into their first postseason appearance since 1999.

The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. (CST) tonight in Class 1A bi-district round game at Amarillo’s Highland Park High School.

“They’ve had a lot of tradition in 11-man, but they’re just running out of kids,” Steers coach Jacob Thompson said. “They knew their school count (in 2004-05) was going to be below the maximum (100 for six-man). They interviewed all their kids from the eighth grade through junior classes, and found they’re only going to have 15 boys play football (next year).”

Senior quarterback Jason Johnson said the Steers respect Wheeler (6-4), but are confident they match up with the Mustangs.

“They’re one of the best 1A football teams in the state,” said Johnson, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in Farwell’s playoff-clinching 46-7 win at Bovina on Friday. “They’ve got the experience and tradition, but I think we have good players.

“We’re excited to be in the playoffs. We’re going to play like it’s our last game; we’re not going to hold anything back.”
Jim Verden, Wheeler’s athletic director and 10th-year coach, said the team has resigned itself to the switch to six-man, even if not everyone in the community has done so.
“It’ll definitely be an adjustment,” said Verden, taking the Mustangs to the playoffs for the ninth time, including the last eight years in a row. “But it’s something the kids are looking forward to.”

Verden said Wheeler, which won state titles in 1977, 1979 and 1981, made it to postseason the last two years despite injuries and lost both times in the first round, in part due to that factor.

“We’d had a four-year run where we reached the semifinals and finals,” he said. “We had four classes where we had good runs of athletes in each class. Now we’ve got a good senior class, but we’ve only got two juniors and five sophomores.”

Two of the Mustangs’ losses were to Sunray (14-7) and Stratford (46-14), among the top teams in 1A. They’ve also lost to a pair of Class 2A squads.

Verden said the Mustangs try to play a challenging pre-district schedule, and as a result have entered district play with a winning record only twice in his tenure.

The game should be a matchup of power styles.

“They’re a big, strong, physical team,” Thompson said of the Mustangs. “They’ve got some good linemen who’ve been starters for two or three years. They like to run the option, and they’re good at it.
“They’ve got kids that know how to play the game, and know what to expect (in the playoffs). It’s going to be a new experience for my kids — none of them have been to the playoffs.”

Game day

Wheeler (6-4) vs. Farwell (8-1)

What: Class 1A bi-district round

When: 7:30 p.m. (CST) Friday at Highland Park H.S., Amarillo

Wheeler players to watch: James Chapman, Sr., QB-S; Josh Miller, Sr., RB-MLB; Brad Masters, Sr., TE-DE; Blaine Rutherford, Sr., OT-DT; Joe Don Glassey, Sr., WR-DB.

Keys to the game: It’s a matchup of power styles, with both teams playing a lot of two-way starters. The Mustangs, who will switch to six-man football next year, have only 21 players out and project even fewer in 2004.

Quotable: “They look big, but I think we’ll match up pretty well with them. And I think we have a little more speed.” — Farwell senior quarterback-defensive back Jason Johnson, on Wheeler.