Blue Devils rally, finish off Southridge in football thriller

Wa-Hi coach Mike Gobel says the game is one of the best he's ever been a part of after his team rallies to the victory Friday.

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Wa-Hi's Moe Handcox (above, at left) powers to the 2-yard line towing Southridge defenders Dallin Palmer and Elvin Cabrerra to set up a touchdown in the first half Friday night.

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Wa-Hi defensive lineman Simon Quackenbush (right, No. 71) hauls down Suns quarterback Matt Mendenhall by his shirt sleeve for a fourth-quarter sack.

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In the back corner of the end zone, Moe Handcox outleaps tight defensive pressure from Southridge's Sean Phenneger to haul in a pass and drag both feet inbounds for the fourth quarter touchdown to put the Blue Devils up 26-23.

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A camera flash hits Blue Devil quarterback Matt Watson (14) as he makes a short touchdown pass after Moe Handcox Jr. set up the play with a big run against Southridge.

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Covered in Blue Devil blue, a Wa-Hi student walks through the crowd with a smile on his face during half-time of the Wa-Hi vs. Southridge football game Friday night.

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Blue Devil Jonah Hoe (20) cuts toward the end-zone on a short touchdown run during the first-half of the Wa-Hi game against Southridge Friday night.

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Wa-Hi's defensive linemen call possession of the ball after a Southridge turnover.

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Joking with friends during half-time, a Wa-Hi student wears a friends' band cap turned sideways on his head.

Watch video of 1st-half highlights below.

WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi quarterback Matt Watson rushed for 104 yards, and passed for 156 more and three touchdowns - including a 12-yarder to wide receiver Moe Handcox with 7:10 remaining in the fourth quarter - as the Blue Devils rallied from 10-0 and 16-7 deficits to post a 26-23 victory over Southridge in high school football action at Borleske Stadium.

"This is one of the (best) football games I've ever been a part of. No doubt about it," Wa-Hi coach Mike Gobel said in a exuberant Blue Devil locker room afterward. "I was superbly impressed with the way our kids bounced back and performed.

"I felt like we quit a little bit last week," Gobel said of a 32-17 season-opening loss at Hermiston. "We finished tonight. We proved we can be finishers."

Running back Jonah Hoe paced Wa-Hi, now 1-1 on the season, with 131 net yards on 13 carries - one of which was a 41-yard scoring scamper with eight seconds left in the third quarter that gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 20-16.

"I took it straight and bounced it outside," Hoe said. "Then it was a race to the pylon."

The Suns, who slipped to 0-2, started the contest as if they would make quick work of Wa-Hi.

Southridge forced a three-and-out on the Blue Devils' first offensive series of the night, then drove 36 yards in nine plays. Chandler Mertens ended the Suns' possession with a 43-yard field goal at the 7:04 mark of the opening quarter.

The lead ballooned to 10-0 just 21 seconds later on a 27-yard scoring pass from Matt Mendenhall to Dallin Palmer. The touchdown strike came just one play after the Suns recovered a Watson fumble.

It looked like it would go from bad to worse for Wa-Hi when Jon Snider appeared to stymie the Blue Devils' next series by intercepting a Watson pass near midfield.

But the Suns were penalized for holding, an infraction that resulted in a Wa-Hi first down at its 49.

A handful of snaps later, Watson found Handcox in the end zone for a six-point pass of 29 yards. Dean Atkinson's PAT kick brought the Blue Devils within three, 10-7, with 3:35 left in the first.

Mertens did his part, late in the period and midway through the second quarter, to swing the pendulum of momentum back in the Suns' favor with a pair of field goals. He booted a 39-yarder at the 1:34 mark of period one and lifted Southridge to a nine-point margin, 16-7, with a 33-yard boot 5:14 before halftime.

Wa-Hi got itself back in the game with 2:43 on the clock on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Watson to tight end Jake Robertson that ended a seven-play, 66-yard drive. Just two plays earlier, the Blue Devils faced third-and-23 at the Suns' 31. But a Watson run of 11 yards and an 18-yard pass from Watson to Handcox gave Wa-Hi first-and-goal at the 2.

The extra-point try was blocked and the Blue Devils went into the break down just 16-13.

"We fought the field-position battle a little," Gobel said. "We won the game with defense in the first half."

Wa-Hi's defense allowed just 66 yards in quarter two. Southridge had minus-4 yards rushing in the first half.

Before Hoe plowed through the Southridge defense to give Wa-Hi a four-point cushion with his effort that started up the middle and advanced to the left sideline, the Blue Devil defense forced a pair of fumbles and Mertens missed a field-goal try from 37 yards out.

In the fourth quarter, the Suns reclaimed the lead, 23-20, when Mendenhall converted a third-and-goal situation from the Wa-Hi 19 with a touchdown toss to A.J. Henderson at the 8:23 mark.

Wa-Hi offered up a response 73 seconds later. The Blue Devils moved 65 yards on just four snaps, with the latter being Watson's throw to Handcox nine yards deep in the end zone. Handcox outleaped Suns' defender Sean Phenneger for what proved to be the game-winning score.

"I knew I had to go up and outjump the corner," Handcox said. "We kept our composure in this game. We made big plays when we had to."

"I had to throw it high and give him a chance," Watson said. "All of our receivers did a great job.

"In the first half, our offensive line struggled picking up the blitz," Watson said. "We made some adjustments at halftime and, in the second half, they did a great job."

Southridge commenced its final drive on its 15 with 1:55 to play and advanced as far as the Wa-Hi 46. But the Suns set when a fourth-and-2 pass from Mendenhall went through the hands of Mikey Sanchez.

The Blue Devils open league play Friday at Wenatchee.

"The coaches talked all week about mental toughness," Hoe said. "That's what we're going to (need) next week."

Wa-Hi 26, Southridge 23

Southridge 13 3 0 7 - 23

Wa-Hi 7 6 7 6 - 26

SR - Mertens 43 FG.

SR - Palmer 27 pass from Mendenhall (Mertens kick).

Wa-Hi - Handcox 29 pass from Watson (Atkinson kick).

SR - Mertens 39 FG.

SR - Mertens 33 FG.

Wa-Hi - Robertson 2 pass from Watson (kick blocked).

Wa-Hi - Hoe 41 run (Atkinson kick).

SR - Henderson 19 pass from Mendenhall (Mertens kick).

Wa-Hi - Handcox 12 pass from Watson (kick failed).

SR Wa-Hi

First downs 16 20

Rushes/yards 24-24 39-247

Passing yards 301 156

Passes (att-comp-int) 38-21-0 19-12-0

Punts 2-29 3-42.7

Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1

Penalties-yards 5-41 12-82

Individual Statistics

RUSHING - SR: Palmer 8-34, Haueter 6-9, Mendenhall 9-(-4), Team 1-(-15); Wa-Hi: Hoe 13-131, Watson 22-104, Filan 2-12, Handcox 1-4, Team 1-(-4).

PASSING - SR: Mendenhall 21-38-0, 301 yards, 2 TDs; Wa-Hi: Watson 12-19-0, 156 yards, 3 TDs.

RECEIVING - SR: Palmer 7-120-1, Henderson 5-86-1, Sanchez 4-52, Richards 3-19, Haueter 1-13, Jones 1-11; Wa-Hi: Handcox 6-120-2, Robertson 2-19-1, Hoe 2-9, Eggers 1-4, Rowley 1-4.


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