WALLA WALLA – DeSales, thanks to a 48-7 opening-round win over White Swan, finds itself in the quarterfinals of the Class 2B-11 state football playoffs.
The Irish find themselves matched up with a familiar foe this Saturday at Marquette Stadium in Yakima in the 1 p.m. battle.
DeSales takes on the undefeated La Salle Lightning (11-0) in what is becoming a keen rivalry.
La Salle defeated DeSales in a 2008 regular-season game only to lose to the Irish in the first round of the playoffs. This year began similarly with La Salle winning 20-0 in the season opener, and again they find themselves in a survival battle on Saturday.
"That first game gave us a baseline for where we were at," Irish coach Pat Graham said. "We took a look at a lot of different players and learned where we needed to go from there. Week after week we’ve continued to work on the fundamentals and our techniques, and we feel like we are a much different team than we were in week one."
The Lightning have rolled since that season opener, compiling a perfect 11-0 season mark that includes a 48-26 win over Reardan in last week’s opening round of the playoffs. La Salle has outscored its opponents, after DeSales, by almost 42 points a game in carving its perfect season to date.
"They’re a great football team that has continued to go out week after week and put up Ws," Graham said. "They’re well coached and they’ve gotten better, too. It’ll be a tough challenge for us.
"They’ve been annihilating people in their league," Graham continued. "On the opposite end of that, we’ve had to go out every week and battle.
We’ve played some very quality opponents. I think that will help get us prepared to play at the playoff level."
The difference in the season opener was the Lightning’s ability to run the ball as La Salle amassed 236 yards on the ground in posting the win.
"Their running game is pretty tough," Graham commented. "Stopping the running game was one of the things we needed to work on. They like to pound you. If they can control the line of scrimmage and have those long sustaining drives, it’s going to be tough for us.
"If we can take them out of what they like to do and force them to do something else, that’s an advantage for us," Graham said. "Anytime you can take them out of what they like to do, even if they have a solid passing game, it plays into your hands."
To stop the Lightning running attack, the Irish defensive linemen — Pat Sharkey, Ben Konen, Vic Mata, Justin Meyer, Spencer Cordeiro — will need a solid effort.
"Those defensive linemen will have to play well for us to have a chance," Graham said. "Our front seven has to have a good game this week."
The Lightning feature three running backs that are each over 170 pounds and used that to their advantage in the first meeting.
"We were pretty young in the defensive line," Meyer said of the opener. "They ran a lot of trap on us. Over the year, we’ve learned our responsibilities on trap. We have to hold our gaps more, can’t get blown out, and tackle low when the running back is coming through. We can’t get pushed around and must stay low.
"On the trap, I’ll have to keep the trapper inside or get into the gap," Meyer said of his D-tackle job. "If I’m on the other end, I have to keep the center from down blocking and keep him in his gap and make sure they don’t run up inside."
The D-line will be looking to read the Lightning offense.
"Their center and guards are pretty good at running their offense," Meyer said. "On the buck sweep, I’ve got to follow the guards and take on the down blocks. If we do our jobs, we should do pretty well."
If the defense can force La Salle out of the run and into the pass, Meyer and Co. are ready.
"We need to make sure we get our hands moving and don’t run around guys," Meyer said. "We want to keep (quarterback Mike McGree, 6-3, 205) in the pocket and keep the pressure on him."
On offense, the Irish never got untracked as the Lightning defense kept the Irish off the board.
"The first time we had some opportunities, but turned the ball over in the red zone," Graham added. "The key for us, offensively, has been Pat (Richard, Irish quarterback). In the early weeks, it was the Pat Richard show. We’ve had a lot of guys around him that have stepped up their games and gotten to the point where they’re playmakers for us. Now, we have three or four guys that we feel comfortable going to anytime."
The Irish offensive line will need to step up and control the trenches to allow those Irish playmakers to make plays if the Irish season is to continue past Saturday.
"Our offensive line has played well all year," Graham said. "Kincaid Schmitz (5-11, 190) has done a great job. We’ve been able to run the ball because of Kincaid and the rest of those guys up front."
In looking back at week one, Schmitz sees missed opportunities, but considerable growth over the season.
"When we get down to the red zone, we’ve got to punch drives in," Schmitz said. "We got down there a couple of times (in the first meeting), and lost the football. We need to finish drives.
"Everyone has a much better understanding of what their assignments are," Schmitz added. "We’ve got more guys (now) that know how to play (different positions). I’m learning everything. We’re better and we understand better."
The offensive line has a feel for what it’s in for come Saturday.
"Both their D-tackles are very good and their D-ends shut down when they need to," Schmitz said. "We know we’ve got to get on our blocks and on our double teams."
You can only get so ready and then you have to go play. The Irish will be at that point come kickoff Saturday.
"We feel confident right now," Graham said. "We’re playing the best football we’ve played all year. Offensively and defensively, we’re about where we need to be."
"We’ve had an entire week to practice," Meyer said. "We will learn all of our assignments and be able to handle our positions."
"We’re going to be mentally ready," Schmitz said. "We’ve got to come out and play hard."
La Salle undefeated into Saturday’s playoff
UNION GAP, Wash. — La Salle, including a 48-26 2B playoff win over Reardan last week, has run the table so far this football season.
The Lightning will take a perfect 11-0 record, including a 20-0 win over DeSales in the season opener, into Saturday’s Class 2B-11 football quarterfinal match with the Irish. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Marquette Staium in Yakima.
La Salle has put 555 points (50.4 points per game) on the board this season while giving up just 117 in carving out its perfect season.
"We’ve got a bunch of kids that are paying attention and working hard," Lightning coach Jack McMillan said. "They’ve done a good job."
The drawback to the Lightning run may be that La Salle has not been tested as its margin of victory has been almost 42 points per game since the DeSales win.
"It’s been a difficult season in that we haven’t had a lot of competition," McMillan said. "Our No. 1 guys have been on the bench at the end of the first quarter."
McMillan knows the resolve of his team, and knows, if tested, the Lightning will respond as they did in the 48-26 win over Reardan that got them to this place.
"The kids responded Friday night," McMillan said. "We got behind Reardan, went ahead, and then they got back to within one. We were able to do some good things on the offensive side and the kids came up defensively, and that was the difference."
As DeSales has progressed since the opening loss, so, too, have the Lightning, despite the lopsided margins of victory.
"We hope we’ve grown and learned," McMillan said. "We are doing a better job. It was a little difficult with not a lot of competition after the Kittitas game (a 49-28 Lightning win). At the same time, we did a lot in practice to get better."
On Saturday, La Salle sees the need to focus on Irish quarterback, Pat Richard, if it hopes to continue to the semifinal round.
"The big key is to contain the quarterback," McMillan said. "He’s a very good athlete who can run it or throw it. We have to do everything we can to keep him bottled up, and we’ll have to play good pass defense. When he throws it, he’s very accurate and he has receivers that can catch the football."
Offensively, La Salle will look to do a better job of what it does best. In its opening win, it was the power running game that sparked the Lightning attack.
Tony Cacchiotti (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) ran for 67 yards, Kerry Duffy (6-0, 170) ran for 62 and Matt Kuribayashi (5-10, 190) added 52 as La Salle ran for 236 yards. Throw in quarterback, Mike McGree (6-3, 205) and his 36 rushing yards and 87 passing yards, and the Lightning did a lot of things well in the opening win, and have continued to do those things well in posting an unblemished record.
"We have to do what we’re doing," McMillan said. "We have to continue playing as well as we’re playing.
"DeSales is a very fundamental, well-coached, disciplined team," McMillan continued. "You have to be able to do your things well, so that you can come out with a win.
"They play with a lot of heart and are full of tradition," McMillan added about the Irish. "They show up in the playoffs every year and know what it’s about. That’s something we have to over come and take away on the field."
La Salle is building its own football traditions. The Lightning marched to the 2006 2B-11 finals before losing to Asotin, and after winning the regular-season meeting, were ousted in the first round of the 2008 playoffs by DeSales.
"That (first-round loss) has crossed our minds quite a bit," McMillan said. "A lot of people keep referring to it. (But) anytime you play a team a second time, it’s very difficult to beat them. It seems that the team that loses learns a whole lot more. We’re hoping our kids understand that and know they have to pay attention in practice, and come in with the attitude of playing the best they can possibly play."
La Salle, as in the 2008 playoffs, will enjoy home field advantage.
"I don’t know about that," McMillan said of the home field advantage. "They took that away last year pretty darn quick. They’ve played here quite a few times in the last several years, so they’re familiar with the field and everything. It’s a good rivalry and it’s a lot of fun."