WALLA WALLA - Wide receiver Moe Handcox grabbed a 34-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jake Robertson on the final play of the second quarter to give Wa-Hi a 14-7 halftime lead over Moses Lake in its Big Nine Conference 4A football encounter Friday night at Borleske Stadium.
Would this be the night that the Blue Devils obliterated a four-game losing streak and picked up their first league win?
Chiefs' signal caller Justin Simmons and his mates responded after intermission with a phrase often uttered by ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."
Simmons rushed for three scores after the break, including a 65-yard gallop around right end on the first snap of the third quarter, and Taylor Lagrave snagged a pair of red-zone interceptions as Moses Lake notched a 31-21 triumph.
Wa-Hi started the contest in promising fashion with a nine-play, 68-yard drive on its first series. Starting quarterback Matt Watson highlighted the march with third-down conversion scrambles of 11, 19 and 31 yards. The latter, coupled with Dean Atkinson's PAT kick, gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead at the 7:48 mark of period one.
On the second play of Wa-Hi's third possession, Watson scampered out of the passing pocket and advanced for 15 yards to the Blue Devils' 40-yard line.
Unfortunately for the home team, contact administered by a pair of Chiefs' tacklers at the end of the play knocked Watson out of the game with 1:10 showing on the first-quarter clock.
Robertson took over and helped lead Wa-Hi to the Moses Lake 7. But the Blue Devils eventually turned the ball over on downs.
The Chiefs got on the board in the final minute of the first half. Simmons ended a seven-play foray that covered 69 yards with a five-yard touchdown pass to Matt Franz with 48 seconds left.
The score held at 7-6, though, because Moses Lake failed on its conversion try.
Prior to the drive, the visitors managed just 68 yards of total offense. Wa-Hi linebacker Brett Christina ended one possession with an interception.
Just when it appeared that the Chiefs would take the momentum into the halftime locker room, the Blue Devils stunned them with a 70-yard, seven-play surge. Robertson got Wa-Hi into scoring range with passes of 8 and 22 yards to Josh Eggers.
Following two incomplete passes to the end zone Handcox, who caught five pass for 100 yards, outbattled a Moses Lake back for the end-of-the-period score that brought the Blue Devil partisans to their feet and gave Wa-Hi a boost going into intermission.
"We went into halftime with a lot of momentum," Wa-Hi assistant coach David Thompson said.
That momentum would not last long.
Simmons' sprint at the beginning of quarter three, coupled with Kyler Moats' 2-point conversion run, evened the score at 14-14.
"Justin is quite a kid," Moses Lake coach Todd Griffith said. "Franz threw two huge blocks to spring him. That's what you have to do to make big plays."
The Blue Devils drove from their 35 to the Moses Lake 16 on their next possession before giving up the ball on downs.
Two plays later, Logan Reardon presented Wa-Hi with another scoring chance after recovering a Chiefs' fumble at the Moses Lake 10.
But on the next snap, Lagrave stepped in front of a Robertson pass at his 2 and raced 66 yards to the Blue Devils' 32.
A half-dozen snaps after that, Simmons snuck in from 1 yard away to give the Chiefs their first lead of the night, 21-14, at the 5:13 mark of the third.
Lagrave ended Wa-Hi's next drive - that went from the Blue Devil 43 to the Moses Lake 8 - with a pick in the end zone.
Another lost fumble by the Chiefs five plays later set Wa-Hi up at the Moses Lake 28 late in quarter three.
On the fourth snap of the final quarter, Robertson crossed the goal line from five yards out with 11 minutes left to even things up at 21-21.
Moses Lake took the lead for good on its next possession on a 35-yard field goal by Elliot Sage with 9:11 to go and Simmons added a 5-yard scoring run at the 4:23 mark.
"Our younger kids are starting to figure out how to play football," Griffith said. "Our older kids are playing well."
"Give them credit," Thompson said. "They made adjustments at halftime."
On its final possession, Wa-Hi reached the Moses Lake 10 after a Robertson screen pass of 73 yards to Jonah Hoe. But the series, and the Blue Devils' faint hopes for victory, ended on a fourth-down incompletion.
"We made plays, but we didn't make as many as they did in the second half," Thompson said. "The kids fought to the end of the game and never gave up."
The Blue Devils host Eisenhower in their regular-season finale next Friday.
"It's back to the drawing board on Monday," Thompson said. "We'll get after it and give ourselves another chance to win a game on Friday."
Moses Lake 31, Wa-Hi 21
ML 0 6 15 10 - 31
Wa-Hi 7 7 0 7 - 21
Wa-Hi - Watson 31 run (Atkinson kick).
ML - Franz 5 pass from Simmons (run failed).
Wa-Hi - Handcox 34 pass from Robertson (Atkinson kick).
ML - Simmons 65 run (Moats run).
ML - Simmons 1 run (Sage kick).
Wa-Hi - Robertson 5 run (Atkinson kick).
ML - Sage 35 FG.
ML - Simmons 5 run (Sage kick).
First downs 18 16
Rushes/yards 30-206 40-192
Passing yards 147 216
Passes (att-comp-int) 22-14-1 20-12-2
Punts 2-28.5 3-33.3
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-0
Penalties-yards 3-20 2-18
RUSHING - ML: Simmons 12-118-3, Cline 8-52, Moats 9-37, Team 1-(-1); Wa-Hi: Watson 4-76-1, Robertson 14-69, Hoe 14-48, Deal 1-3, Team 1-1, Handcox 5-0, Eggers 1-(-5).
PASSING - ML: Simmons 14-22-1, 147 yards, 1 TD; Wa-Hi: Robertson 11-19-2, 181 yards, 1 TD, Hoe 1-1-0, 35 yards, 0 TDs.
RECEIVING - ML: Franz 6-71-1, Koon 4-41, Ballard 3-17, Lagrave 1-18; Wa-Hi: Handcox 5-100-1, Eggers 4-45, Rowley 2-(-2), Hoe 1-73.