WALLA WALLA - Fresh off its first win of the Big Nine season, Wa-Hi's football team looks to put a positive close to its 2010 campaign in a crossover game at Hanford Thursday night.
The Blue Devils closed out their regular season with a home victory over Eisenhower to earn the sixth spot from the Big Nine 4A Division, putting them in the season's final game.
"I say it pretty much every week, but all year we have just been working to get better," said Wa-Hi head coach Mike Gobel. "Last week our playmakers made the plays we needed them to, and that was what made the difference for us between a win and a loss."
No playmaker was more prevalent than Wa-Hi wide out Moe Handcox, Jr. (junior, 5-foot, 10-inches, 160 pounds), who hauled in three touchdown passes in the Blue Devils' win over Ike to remain the Big Nine 4A's leading receiver with 36 catches for 749 yards and nine touchdowns.
"It was a fun night," Handcox said. "We knew we needed to win and our line was great on both sides of the ball. I think that's where it all started for us, and it was a really good way to close out the home season."
Hanford (1-8, 1-6) features a balanced attack offensively, led by running back Cameron Wagar (sr., 5-11, 195), who has already notched 811 rushing yards on the year.
"We know they can run the ball," said sophomore running and defensive back Jonah Hoe. "If we can handle their running game, then that's going to help a lot. It comes down to us executing and going hard."
Wa-Hi was forced to get creative last week, running a variation of the Wildcat offense with Handcox running the show with its top two quarterbacks sidelined. But even with a short week to recover, Gobel expects senior quarterback Jake Robertson (6-6, 207) to return under center this week.
Riley Shintafter (soph., 5-9, 150) has been Hanford's leading passer, completing 47 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns.
"We know they're going to be pretty much 50-50 with how they move the ball," Gobel said. "Wagar is a heck of a back, but they can move the ball in the air a bit, too."
Hanford didn't move the ball as well as many of the teams Wa-Hi faced during its regular season, finishing last in the Big Nine 3A in total offense, and the team placed seventh in total defense.
There may be a chance for Wa-Hi to score more big plays like the ones that defined their win over Ike.
"It starts with everyone being ready to play," Gobel said. "It's an interesting night because we want to get kids who haven't had the chance to be on the Friday night stage that are coming back a chance to get familiar with what it's like to be out there. But we also want to get our seniors the chance to enjoy their last game."
Both objectives seem attainable for the Blue Devils in a game that affords the squad a chance to put a strong cota on the season.
"You know, high school sports are a revolving door," Gobel said. "Your roster is constantly changing, and you always have to be prepared for next year. This is a game we are really looking forward to. A couple of weeks ago, we didn't know if we would have another game so we're excited to get to have another four quarters to grow and build."