SPORTS

Small gestures at Weed-Fall River football game are show of sportsmanship after Mill Fire

Ethan Hanson
Redding Record Searchlight

Weed junior running back D.J. Horton had missed two days of practice before Friday night's home opener against Fall River.

It was understandable. He's been living through a horrific experience.

Horton lost his home during the Mill Fire on Sept. 2. Horton had been in his home on that Friday afternoon before the fire started. He was getting snacks and Gatorade for practice while his father, Deandre, and sister, Jamila, had been napping. 

Horton returned to school. An hour later, he received a phone call from his mother, Elizabeth. Their family home was on fire. Horton was scared. He wasn't sure at first if his father or sister were safe.

Both Deandre and Jamila were safe, as it turned out. They had woken up just in time and left the house.

Weed's D.J. Horton, left, goes on a run against Fall River on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Fall River beat Weed 39-0.

"I was by the gym and all you could see was a big cloud of smoke in the air and we thought the fire had been down the street," Horton said. "I was freaking out."

Friday night brought a sense of normalcy for Horton and other teammates who lost their homes during the Mill Fire.

Opposing Weed in its long-delayed home opener was defending CIF State Division VII-AA Bowl Champion Fall River. The season started on Aug. 26.

Fall River (3-0) played like a team with more experience under its belt. Weed struggled to find an offensive rhythm.

Fall River forced five turnovers on fumbles and commanded the run game to shut out Weed on the road 39-0.

Fall River quarterback Brandon Brown, left, receives protection from teammates Cannon Oiler (12) and Carter Kroschel in their game against Weed on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in Weed. Fall River won 39-0.

The Bulldogs swarmed and prevented Horton from breaking out for huge gains. But the game was full of gentleman-like moments.

After a tackle was made, Fall River picked up Horton off the turf and tapped him on the helmet. Fall River junior quarterback Brandon Brown has competed against Horton since the fourth grade.

"I reached out to (Horton) and told him there's always a place open to him in Fall River if he needs it," Brown said. 

Brown threw two touchdowns and rushed for a touchdown to lead Fall River.

Here are the top five moments from Friday's memorable meeting between Fall River and Weed.

1. Weed Fire Department, Cal Fire receive standing ovation from fans

First responders, including firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Weed Fire Department, received cheers at halftime during the Fall River/Weed football game on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. The Mill Fire tore through parts of Weed and Lake Shastina on Sept. 2, leaving two women dead.

The loudest cheers were reserved for the men and women from the Weed Fire Department and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection at halftime.

Weed resident Stephanie Wroten was one of the firefighters who was cheered during halftime. She joined the fire department in 2020 after seeing homes burn in the area during the Boles Fire in 2014.

Wroten works at College of the Siskiyous as vice president of the school's Administrative Support Management team. She also leads Siskiyous' Upward Bound, a program that supports high school and college students who are in the lower rungs of the economic ladder and might be the first in their families to go to college so they graduate.

"COVID limited us at first, but it was great to see everyone back out here," Wroten said. "There are several students on this team who lost their homes."

Wroten has assisted Horton through the Upward Bound program.

"Her nephew and me have been close since we were in kindergarten and whenever I've needed something, she's there," Horton said. "I look at her as an aunt and I can go to her."

2. Fall River controls line of scrimmage

Fall River junior Remington Blue and senior Blake Myers controlled the line of scrimmage from the opening whistle. 

Brown scored after eight plays because of Blue and Myers. Weed could get stops periodically but didn't have the size to take both Myers and Blue head on.

3. Weed plays better defense in second half

Weed switched its defense in the second half and slowed down Fall River's run game.

More players were added to the line of scrimmage and Fall River had more difficulty getting upfield.

Weed coach Adam Groppi hopes film from the first game will set his team up for a win next week against Mount Shasta.

"Not playing games is going to set you behind and you look at the game film to make corrections," Groppi said. "It's Fall River. They are a good team and they have a good program. It was just good to get out there."

4. Fall River brings relentless pressure

Fall River had numerous players tackling the ball carrier. Bulldogs junior Devin Humphries led teammates in repeatedly surrounding Horton.

If one person missed a tackle, another Fall River player would be there to bring down Horton.

"This team is consistent because of our commitment," Brown said. "We come out every day and we practice as hard as we can. We keep going and we don't stop."

5. Fall River, Weed: A game between friends

Brown made a tackle when Weed attempted to run on a fake punt attempt.

Fall River repeatedly threw Horton to the ground. But Brown was one of the players to pick up Horton after he was wrestled to the ground.

It seemed sportsmanship between the two schools outweighed the impacts of winning and losing on Friday night.

"Off the field we are really close with Fall River," Horton said. "They are brothers to us and that friendship came since we've been playing each other in the fourth grade. We played AAU against each other until high school. 

"They always invite us over there and they are always welcome over here," Horton added.

North State scores from Week 3

  • Orland 29, Shasta 13,
  • Enterprise 41, Lassen 0
  • Del Oro 55, West Valley 7
  • U-Prep 24, McKinleyville 6
  • Willows 14, Anderson 0
  • Portola 42, Redding Christian 7
  • Las Plumas 53, Central Valley 26
  • Burney 40, Tulelake 32

Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams' move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.