The Wallowa Cougars easily beat visiting Imbler 74-24, in a game that was the last possible stumbling block on Wallowa's road to the state football playoffs.
Imbler had a long day against the Cougars, despite great play by sophomore Mitch Myers and senior Jeff Smith, who had the lion's share of Imbler yards in the match-up. Myers, in fact, had 32 carries for 238 of Imbler's 414 yards in the game and was one of the first rushers to really find some exploitable holes in Wallowa's defense at a home game.
Wallowa did what it does best, and put a staggering load of points on the board, racking up 44 in the first half. It should have been at least 50, but an inadvertent whistle pulled back a nice 30-yard pass from Patrick Green to Ryan Harshfield that was easily in the end zone, whistle or not, in the first quarter. Despite difficulties containing Myers, the Cougar defense stopped much more than it let through.
Harshfield, always a threat when rushing or receiving, showed he can also be a force when throwing the ball. Harshfield hit Kaleb Oveson for two scores and Kainoa Delatori for one over the course of the game on passes following pitchouts from Green. In addition to his part of Wallowa's 577 yards in the air, Harshfield had three touchdowns of his own on the day.
Sophomore defensive back Kaleb Oveson ran the patterns the way fans have come to expect and twice cut out an Imbler receiver for interceptions - both of which he took in for touchdowns. With his two interceptions, Oveson had a whopping six touchdowns to his credit by game's end.
While Wallowa will certainly savor its sixth straight Old Oregon league win over the Panthers on Friday, the loss of Joseph to Pine Eagle may be even more significant, at least emotionally, for the WHS team.
Joseph, a team many saw as real competition for Wallowa in the playoffs, is now finished for the year, and 4-1 Pine Eagle - which the Cougar squad beat in its first league game - will be the other Old Oregon League team to advance to the first round of state.
Wallowa will play at Cove on Friday, but regardless of the outcome, the Cougars have first place in the OOL nailed up tight, and will be hosting the first round of state at home on Nov. 12 against the third place District 1 team, most probably Jewell. Wallowa earned the honor, as well as the pressure, of being ranked second in 1A teams behind Perrydale in a coaches poll this week.
Pine Eagle, which will finish as the second seed in the OOL, no matter what the outcome of its final game, will have to play the second seeded team from District three, which should be Ione.
So how does the win feel to Wallowa head coach Greg Oveson?
"I feel bad for Joseph, but winning today put us in as quarter district champs. Cove's going to come in fired up for us. All they've got left in their season is to beat us and they're going to be ready," Oveson said following the game. "I hope we play a little bit better on run defense or we're going to be in trouble."