A PROMISE FULFILLED: West Valley edges Sutter 7-0 in D-III championship for late teammate Wacker

West Valley High head coach Greg Grandell hoists the Northern Section Division III championship plaque with his players, celebrating their 7-0 victory over Sutter in the Redding Rancheria Game of the Week Saturday night at The Pasture. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

COTTONWOOD – When West Valley senior Tyson Wacker died in October from injuries suffered in a car accident, the Eagles not only dedicated the rest of their season to their departed teammate, they wanted to deliver a section championship ring to the Wacker family.

On Saturday, the 62 West Valley players, including Tyson’s younger brother Ashtin dressed in full varsity pads, made sure they will get to fulfill that promise.

West Valley’s defense suffocated a high-scoring attack from No. 2 Sutter and gritted out a 7-0 victory Saturday night to capture the Northern Section Division III championship at The Pasture in the Redding Rancheria Game of the Week.

“We were going to honor Tyson the best way a bunch of teenage boys could…” West Valley junior linebacker Cade Lambert said. “The best way we could honor Tyson was to do the thing he loved the most and doing the thing he wanted the most and that was winning a section ring. We all got together and said we were going to win it for Tyson and we did.”

Top-seeded West Valley (12-1), winners of 12 straight, pitched its sixth shutout on the season and didn’t allow any breathing room for a Sutter team that totaled 29 yards on 37 plays and didn’t complete any of its seven passing attempts.

“What makes this defense so strong is the brotherhood we’ve developed,” said West Valley senior running back and linebacker Bailey Sulzer. “Especially after losing Tyson, it really pulled us together. We’re athletic, all super-fast and the No. 1 thing that makes us as good as we are is how close we are.”

West Valley’s Ashtin Wacker holds up a poster of his older brother Tyson, who died in October from injuries suffered in a car accident. The Eagles vowed to #PlayFor8 — Tyson’s number — for the remainder of the season. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

Sutter (10-3) punted 10 times in the game and often times flipped the field to force West Valley to sustain a long drive. The Eagles couldn’t capitalize when they had chances – twice in the first half they started inside the Husky 40-yard line and came away with no points. But a Lambert fumble recovery at the Sutter 28 set West Valley up for a scoring opportunity late in the second quarter.

Sulzer picked up the Eagles’ second first down of the game on a 14-yard run to reach the Sutter 10 yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Kitt McCloughan fired a 4-yard pass to Myles Gibbons for a 4-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the first half.

That was all the Eagles would need.

It was a workhorse night like no other for Sulzer, who carried the ball a career-high 36 times for 153 yards. He didn’t lose yards on any rushing attempt and the Eagles continued to lean on their third-year star to grind out a victory.

West Valley senior Bailey Sulzer runs the ball against Sutter Saturday night in the Northern Section Division III championship game in Cottonwood. Sulzer finished with a career-high 36 carries for 153 yards. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

“You hand the ball off to No. 13 and he’s getting at least 2-3 yards every single time,” Lambert said. “Even if he doesn’t get that first down, he gets those 2-3 yards. It’s the way he hits people, he’s making cuts and he’s punishing the defense and it brings life in the sidelines and brings life into the other guys.”

West Valley had a couple missed opportunities in the second half that could have put the game out of reach. An 11-play drive was turned over on downs when Sulzer was called for illegal touching on an appeared first down catch. The officials claimed he was an ineligible tight end despite him coming out of the backfield on the play.

The ensuing possession, the Eagles marched on a 12-play drive to the Sutter 2-yard line but Felipp Sobrino’s 20-yard field goal was a low line drive that barely cleared the lineman in front of him.

West Valley sacked Cory McIntyre on second down on the next two drives and McIntyre’s run on fourth down was short. Sulzer picked up a first down on a 5-yard run and the Eagles knelt in victory formation for capture their first section title since 2013 and ended the Huskies quest for a fifth straight section championship.

“I’ve been here for the section title and it wasn’t this emotional because we lost a player, it’s been tough sledding,” West Valley head coach Greg Grandell said. “Our guys were hanging in there, been really super. I’m so proud of our guys, our community, our coaches. Outside of the football part of it. Of course winning it was really nice and fun. They deserve it.”

West Valley High’s Nathaniel Zambrana pulls down Sutter quarterback Cory McIntyre during the Northern Section Division III championship game at The Pasture Saturday night. West Valley held Sutter to 29 yards and no first downs on 37 plays. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

McCloughan completed 4 of 14 passes for 11 yards and the touchdown, two of those completions went to Devin Low for 12 yards. Low also punted nine time with an average of 31.8 yards.

Sutter’s McIntyre was the leading rusher with 16 yards on 14 carries and Colton Dillabo rushed nine times for 14 yards.

The Eagles advance to the CIF state playoffs where they will play in a Northern California Regional championship game on Friday or Saturday with the winner advancing to the state championship game. The CIF seeding meeting is Sunday.

About T.J. Holmes

T.J. is a national award-winning journalist who has roamed sidelines, baselines and bleachers in the North State since 2010. He shares his passion for sports and the community with his fiancé Tracy, who works alongside him as a videographer for Shasta County Sports. Story tip: shastacountysports@gmail.com.

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