MATTAWA — On a Friday night when Wahluke High School honored its six football seniors and celebrated homecoming, the Warriors were in need of a hero to step forward in their South Central Conference East Division football finale against Columbia-Burbank.
With the SCC East’s fourth and final playoff berth at stake, quarterback Makai Hirai — one of the seniors recognized during a pre-game ceremony — stepped forward to accept the leading role.
The 5-foot-6, 155-pounder slithered his way through the Coyotes’ defense for 148 yards rushing on 20 carries and tallied four touchdowns in Wahluke’s 35-17 victory.
Friday’s triumph lifted the Warriors to 3-3 in league and 4-4 overall. Burbank is now 2-3 in the East and 3-5 overall.
"For this group of young men to come together and put together a playoff season ... it far exceeded my expectations," Wahluke coach Dan Oppelt said. "Our staff has done a tremendous job with the young kids."
The Coyotes’ offense started its first series of the night at its own 48-yard line and reached the Wahluke five on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Heath Lawrence to Jon McGreevy.
But two rushes for no gain and a pair of incomplete passes later, Burbank turned the ball over on downs.
The Coyotes got a second chance in the red zone three plays later when Ethan Ireland recovered a Hirai fumble at the Warriors’ nine.
But the Wahluke defense stood firm and forced Burbank to settle for a field-goal attempt. Jose Barajas made the most of the opportunity by booting the ball through the uprights from 23 yards out to give the Coyotes a 3-0 edge with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
"It was one of those deals," Burbank coach Rich Harris said. "We had the opportunity to be up 14-0 and didn’t take advantage of it."
The Coyotes’ lead held until the 10:08 mark of the second quarter when Hirai completed a 55-yard, six-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Hermis Rivera followed with the first of his five PAT kicks to give the Warriors a 7-3 advantage.
Wahluke increwased its margin to 11, 14-3, with 7:25 remaining before halftime when Ricky Silverio broke loose for a 25-yard, end-zone scamper.
The score occurred two plays after Sam Corrales intercepted a toss from backup signal caller Dillon Rice and returned it from midfield to the Burbank 31.
The Coyotes responded with a 53-yard march in six plays. Rice hit McGreevy with a 16-yard touchdown aerial to close the gap to four, 14-10, with 4:13 showing on the clock.
A 41-yard touchdown jaunt by Hirai through the Burbank secondary, in which he left several tacklers in his wake, re-established an 11-point margin for the Warriors, 21-10, with 51 seconds to go in the half.
The Coyotes drove 60 yards in 11 plays on their first possession of the second half, but came away empty-handed. On fourth-and-five from the Wahluke 12, Rice connected with Kevin Ireland inside the five.
But Ireland was stripped of the ball and Corrales recovered the loose pigskin at the four.
Hirai willed the Warriors on a 12-play, 96-yard surge after that. He ended the drive four seconds into the final quarter with a 1-yard sneak to up Wahluke’s lead to 18, 28-10.
"That was an absolute backbreaker," Harris said.
Hirai ended the scoring with an 8-yard touch at the 2:46 mark.
"He was the best athlete on the field," Harris said of Hirai. "We had no answer for him. We had guys in the right spots, but didn’t make tackles when we needed to."
Burbank 3 7 0 7 — 17
Wahluke 0 21 0 14 — 35
Bur — Barajas 23 field goal.
Wah — Hirai 4 run (Rivera kick).
Wah — Silveria 25 run (Rivera kick).
Bur — McGreevy 16 pass from Rice (Barajas kick).
Wah — Hirai 41 run (Rivera kick).
Wah — Hirai 1 rin (Rivera kick).
Bur — Gordon 1 run (Barajas kick).
Wah — Hirai 8 run (Rivera kick).
First downs 16 15
Rushes/yards 31-129 46-298
Passing yards 79 78
Passes (att-comp-int)17-7-1 8-4-0
Punts 1-36 2-24
Fumbles-lost 3-2 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-25 10-93
RUSHING — Burbank: Gordon 23-112, E. Ireland 4-25, Rice 2-(-2), Lawrence 2-(-6); Wahluke: Hirai 20-148, Ruvalcaba 11-86, Silverio 11-59, Wiltse 2-7, Team 2-(-2).
PASSING — Burbank: Lawrence 1-5-0, 25 yards; Rice 6-12-1, 54 yards, 1 TD. Wahluke: Hirai 4-8-0, 78 yards.
RECEIVING — Burbank: McGreevy 2-41-1, K. Ireland 2-19-0, Schuck 2-15-0, E. Ireland 1-4-0; Wahluke: Jimenez 2-51-0, Sabin 2-27-0.