WALLA WALLA — Wa-Hi’s band of Blue Devils, players and coaches, couldn’t help a whooping celebration beneath windy Borleske Stadium’s Friday night lights.
And why not?
The Blue Devils had just rolled up 28 points in the fourth quarter for a come-from-behind 35-21 Big Nine Conference Cascade Division football victory over longtime rival Richland.
The win gives the 5-2 (5-3 overall) Blue Devils third place in the division. Wa-Hi now plays Moses Lake, the third-place team from the Columbia Division (4-2, 5-3) at Borleske Stadium next Friday.
After the win, senior running back Austin Schilling caught his breath long enough to put the victory into perspective.
"This is a big win for us," he said. "It feels really good."
Schilling had few doubts his team would bounce back after a lackluster first two quarters.
"Definitely you have a tendency to want to drop your head," he said. "But you have to know there’s a lot of the game left to play. We worked really hard, and we’ve got a real good team. We know we have the ability to come back real quick.
"The defense and the offense absolutely played well," he said. "That fourth quarter will be one to remember."
A key play for the Blue Devils came with 3:15 on the third-quarter clock. With a third-and-nine, Wa-Hi quarterback Michael Weisner passed 15 yards to Gary Winston.
Winston caught the ball, then lost it in a tangle of tacklers that forced him out of bounds.
The loose ball, grabbed by a Bomber, was also ruled out of bounds, and Wa-Hi remained on offense at the Richland 43-yard line.
After reaching the Bomber 14 and facing a third-and-12 going against the wind, Wa-Hi stood while the final five seconds ticked away.
On the first play of the fourth period, with the wind at his back, Weisner fired a bullet over the middle that Winston dived to pull in inches above the turf for the TD.
The play cut the gap to 21-14 after Dean Atkinson’s kick through the uprights.
And it singled a major change in momentum in favor of the Blue Devils.
Wa-Hi’s defense forced a punt after four Richland plays, a 15-yarder against the wind.
Wa-Hi set up at its 47-yard line. On the eighth play, Weisner ran in from 2 yards out to tie the score at 21-21 with 7:37 to play. A 27-yard pass from Weisner to Aaron Flippo on a third-and-two kept the drive alive.
Wa-Hi kicked off, and on Richland’s second play, Zach Sumerlin and Ryan James led a gang tackle on Richland’s leading runner, Jake McKinney, and James fell on McKinney’s fumble on the play at the Bombers’ 26-yard line.
Two plays later, Weisner connected with Winston for a 27-yard touchdown, and Wa-Hi took a 28-21 lead with 5:42 on the game clock.
Richland ran two plays on its next possession, and Wa-Hi’s Moe Handcox ripped the ball away from McKinney with 5:00 to play at the Blue Devils 37-yard line.
Schilling scored on a 6-yard run on the eighth play of the drive for Wa-Hi’s final 35-21 lead with 1:12 to play.
Winston, hampered with a pulled hamstring, carried twice on the drive, for 13 and 25 yards.
"That fourth quarter was just a whole team effort," Weisner said. "We got down big in the first half. We made some adjustments at halftime. Overall we just came out more fired up in the second half, and we just took control of the game.
"The win gives us a lot of confidence for a home game next week," Weisner added. "It’s something to look forward to."
Wa-Hi received the game’s opening kickoff and running back Brandon Porter took a handoff on the third place from scrimmage, bowled over two would-be tacklers and raced 47 yards for a touchdown.
Richland then controlled the first half, helped by three lost Wa-Hi fumbles and a Richland pass interception.
McKinney tied the score at 7-7 with a 1-yard run with 1:02 on the first-quarter clock.
Quarterback Haden Hilty passed to Elijah Gardaya for a 40-yard TD and a 14-7 Richland lead with 11:47 on the second-quarter clock.
Hilty passed 14 yards to Andrew Kusuda for a touchdown and the Bombers’ 21-7 lead with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Porter led Wa-Hi rushers with five carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. Schilling carried 14 times for 53 yards and a touchdown, and Winston carried four times for 38 yards.
Winston caught six passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Weisner completed 12-of-22 passes for 144 yards and two TDs. He had one interception.
Richland’s McKinney led all rushers with 30 carries for 106 yards and a TD.
Hilty passed for 135 yards on 12-22 and a TD, with no interceptions. Andrew Kusuda caught five passes for 53 yards and a TD.
"I’m really, really impressed with the way the kids came back in the second half," Wa-Hi coach Marc Yonts said. "Everything that could go wrong did in the first half, turnovers, missed tackles.
"What a great tribute to the kids the way they came back the in the second half," he said. "They didn’t quit fighting; they didn’t quit believing; and they really played a great second half of football.
"It was absolutely one of our better fourth quarters," Yonts said. "Ryan James made a comment last week that he was just tired of losing the close ones. So, it was nice to see the kids finish from that standpoint.
"Not only to get the game tied up and to be in a close game when everyone gets a little tightened up, but then to be able to finish it, and take it, the way they did, is a real tribute to them," he said. "I couldn’t be more proud of them."
"With James and Handcox, we got a couple of big takeaways late, and the offense really got moving," Yonts said. "Coach (Mike) Gobel and the offense really got settled in to what they like to do in the second half. They were able to move the ball and sustain the drives and to keep Richland’s offense off of the field.
"This was a great win," Yonts said. "I couldn’t be happier for the kids and prouder of them."
Richland 7 14 0 0 —21
Wa-Hi 7 0 0 28 —35
WW — Porter 47 yard run (Atkinson kick).
RI — McKinney 1 run (Klute kick).
RI — Gardaya 40 pass from Hilty (Klute kick).
RI — Kusuda 14 pass from Hilty (Klute kick).
WW — Winston 14 pass from Weisner (Atkinson kick).
WW — Weisner 1 run (Atkinson kick).
WW — Winston 27 pass from Weisner (Atkinson kick).
WW — Schilling 6 tun (Atkinson kick).
First downs 13 14
Rushes/yards 34-113 35-149
Passing yards 135 144
Passes (att-comp-int) 22-12-0 22-12-1
Punts 6-27.3 4-36
Fumbles-lost 2-2 3-3
Penalties-yards 4-19 4-20
RUSHING — Richland: McKinney 30-106. Hilty 2-7, Reynolds 2-5; Wa-Hi: Porter 5-56, Winston 4-38, Schilling 14-53, Weisner 11-8.
PASSING — Richland: Hilty 12-22-0, 135 yards, 1 TD. Wa-Hi: Weisner 12-22-1, 144 yards, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING — Richland: Kusuda 5-53-1. Reynolds 1-1-0, Gardaya 3-43-1, Coday 2-17-0, McKinney 1-21-0; Wa-Hi: Handcox 3-19-0, Winston 6-78-2; Porter 1-(-3)-0, Schilling 1-22-0, Flippo 1-28-0.