Adrian/Jordan Valley players go through offensive drills last week in Adrian. The Antelopes are now listed No. 2 in state 8-man football ranks by the Oregon School Activities Association. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ADRIAN – They play on a small-town team with big dreams and for the past six weeks the Adrian/Jordan Valley 8-man football team has torn up opposing grid squads with relative ease.

Now 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state by the Oregon School Activities Association, the most surprising thing about the Antelopes is how unsurprised they are with their success.

“It’s a pretty good feeling right now,” said senior running back Wade Bond with a slight shrug.

Wade’s teammate Michael Babcock was equally nonchalant. 

“We pretty much get along well together,” said Babcock.

Which is crucial, said Adrian senior Wes Bayes, to the Antelope’s success.

“It is a brotherhood. We are all close,” said Bayes. 

Adrian – population 174 – doesn’t exhibit signs of a football town. But the game is big in the community, said Antelope coach Bill Wortman.

“Football is always important around here. We haven’t missed a playoff since 2010. This is a great environment for football,” said Wortman.

In 2014 the Antelopes won a state title and reached the state quarterfinals last year before losing to Hosanna Christian 46-36. 

This year the Antelope football program improved with every game, running roughshod over teams with a high-octane, speed-option based offense and a solid defense. The latest victim of the Antelope juggernaut was Powder Valley Friday. Adrian rolled past the Badgers 84-26. 

The success is a product of talent, hard work and buy-in from the community, said Wortman.

“A big part of why we play so well is community support,” said Wortman.

The string of Antelope victories reads like basketball scores. Adrian has outscored its opponents 442-118 over six games. 

The Antelopes’ closest game was a 42-36 win over Crane Sept. 13. 

Adrian football coach Bill Wortman stands with a player while watching practice late last week in Adrian. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

A key turning point in the season occurred in the first game, against perennial 8-man powerhouse Dufur High School, south of The Dalles. A non-league road contest, the Antelopes shredded the Rangers 66-8. After they beat Crane, the Antelopes defeated Cove 86-0, Wallowa 66-6 and Elgin 84-42. 

“We are fast. We’ve got just great team speed overall,” said Wortman.

Wortman said going into the season he felt the Antelopes were “going to be tough.”

“We knew we could run the football, but we were not sure we could throw the ball as well as we have,” said Wortman.

Against Elgin, Bond ended the night with four touchdowns and seven catches for 198 yards. Meanwhile, Antelope running back Conley Martin piled up 185 yards on 17 carries and scored six touchdowns. 

“We just play fast, physical football,” said Bond.

Antelope coach Bill Wortman makes a point to a group of players during practice last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

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Thirst for football

Antelope coach Bryce Kershner operates a ranch in Jordan Valley but three times a week he jumps behind the wheel of a small bus and drives four high school football players to Adrian for practice. 

Kershner could spend his time focused on his ranch but he loves football. So do the four players from Jordan Valley.

“It’s been worth it. I do it to play football. Otherwise I’d be sitting around getting fat,” said Kort Skinner, a Jordan Valley High School senior tight end.

Kershner said he steps away from his ranching duties to drive the bus and to coach partly to set a standard about sacrifice and commitment. 

Adrian coach Bryce Kershner watches players conduct tackling drills at practice last week. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

“It gives kids a real-life example,” said Kershner.

If there was a turning point in the season for the Antelopes, said Kershner, it was the victory over Dufur.

“We needed a statement game,” he said. “It was a focus of what we wanted to do.”

Wortman said the Dufur game was a springboard.

“We’ve built on that. We expect to be good and we want our boys to want to win,” said Wortman.

Wortman began his head coaching duties at Adrian three years ago. 

The coaching crew of Wortman, Kershner and Ray Uriarte, a former Baker High School coach, focuses on fundamentals in practice. 

The mood is workmanlike and efficient. 

There are no loud shouts or grandstanding by the players. 

There is a sense of purpose and determination, like a rancher preparing to move cows or build fence. 

Uriarte said near the end of practice one day last week that the business-like attitude of the Antelopes is another factor in their football triumphs.

“They have the will and the commitment to be better than they are. I like them all. They’re a bunch of ranch kids committed to football, Adrian and their schools,” said Uriarte. 

Uriarte stood with his arms crossed and looked out over the group of green-uniformed players as they moved through a series of drills.  

A coach with decades of experience, Uriartre nodded toward the players. 

He said the Antelopes are growing, maturing and getting better with each grid contest.  

Adrian coaches Bill Wortman and Ray Uriarte (far left) evaluate a football drill. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

“One game at a time and don’t overlook anybody, that’s our attitude,” he said.

Then he paused and a slight smile creased his face.

“But they have what it takes,” he said.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377. 

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