WALLA WALLA -- With Wenatchee coming off a pair of narrow victories and Walla Walla coming off its own squeaker of a win, Friday night's showdown in Wenatchee figures to be a classic opener to Big Nine play for the pair of 2009 playoff teams.
Wenatchee, fresh off a 9-1 league championship campaign, lost the majority of its starters from last year's club, but the Panthers have proven to be resilient and gritty in 2010 with an overtime win over Southridge and a three-point victory over Eastmont.
"We know what kind of program they have," said Wa-Hi head coach Mike Gobel. "This is a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row so you know that they have quality people in place because in high school football you pretty much are starting over every year as far as talent goes."
The Warriors do return five starters, four whichplay on both sides of the ball. The line is anchored by senior tackle Alec Martin (6-4, 245), while Cooper Helm (6-3, 175) lines up under center for the Pirates.
"From what we've seen they're really able to move the ball with their passing game," Gobel said. "They're a lot like us in that their quarterback has been able to gain yardage rushing and passing, but they have some weaknesses defensively. We're working on tightening our ship, and I'm sure they are too."
Helm currently ranks third in the Big Nine in total offense with 386 yards, and Nolan Johnston (5-7, 170) has already amassed 162 yards on 36 carries.
Wenatchee's receiving corps is led by Jared Jaeger (6-2, 180), who has hauled in nine receptions for for 150 yards a and a pair of touchdowns.
"I think last week we showed what we're capable of," said Wa-Hi lineman Rob Ferenz. "It was good to get a win going into league play. We really came together, and it's a good to establish ourselves. It shows we really have a chance this week."
The Blue Devis are geared up to tackle Wenatchee's balanced offensive attack, which has posted 311 yards on the ground and 302 in the air.
However, defense has been an issue thus far for the Panthers. Wenatchee has allowed 747 yards of total offense in its first two games, the second worst total in the 4A Big Nine rankings.
"We have a measuring stick coming into this game since we have both played Southridge," said Wa-Hi linebacker Brett Christina. "We beat Southridge by three and they beat them by one so we know we're at similar levels, and that if you look at that then we should beat them.
The Blue Devils will again rely on Matt Watson (6-1, 205), who currently ranks second in the Big Nine total yardage rankings, at quarterback to guide their offense along with the league's top receiver through two weeks Moe Handcox (5-10, 160).
"We're at the point now where these games are important for our future and making the playoffs," Gobel said. "We know that getting a win this week is a major step toward achieving our goal of moving forward and fighting for the playoffs. Obviously, a win gives us some critical breathing room."