WALLA WALLA - After a 35-34 overtime squeaker over Reardan in the District 7/9 crossover football game last Friday night at Ty Baffney Field, the DeSales Irish (7-2) catch a little break: DeSales has already beaten White Swan (7-3), their opponent Friday in the first round of Washington's Class 2B-11 state playoffs.
But, as the great coach and college football analyst Lee Corso says, "Not so fast!"
The Irish rolled over the Cougars 42-16 back on Sept. 16, but that was almost two months ago.
Since that game and a 20-6 loss to Asotin, the Cougars have gone on a six-game tear, rolling through the Central Washington 2B-11 Conference. White Swan's most recent victory was a 61-27 trouncing of Manson in the CW2B championship game in which Alex Sampson and Niko Nanez combined to rush for 240 yards and four touchdowns.
"The biggest thing we've noticed on film is they're playing with a lot of confidence," DeSales coach Pat Graham said. "They've won six games in a row in their league and you can tell they are playing with much more emotion and confidence, and that can make a team a little dangerous."
The last time the Irish played White Swan, DeSales capitalized on Cougar mistakes to come away with the big win despite giving up 262 yards on the ground.
White Swan plays a smash-mouth brand of football. The Cougars racked up 20 first-downs and went for 11 fourth-down conversions when they played DeSales in September, yet they struggled in the red zone, scoring only one touchdown on offense and that coming with 23 seconds left in the game.
"It's one of those situations where it's probably more of a pitfall for us (having beaten White Swan previously)," Graham said. "They might want a little redemption and we might be taking them a little lackadaisically. It's one of those things where you have to talk to the kids and explain to them that this is a different team, they've improved a lot and they're on a hot winning streak."
Sampson is averaging 10.7 yards-per-carry this season and has amassed 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's very explosive," Graham said. "We're going to have to make sure we know where he's at and have a plan to take him away, or at least try and contain him.
"Sometimes it's not about stopping them," he continued, "it's about keeping them from breaking that one big one."
On the Irish side, Graham said they will try to mix things up a bit.
"When you play somebody that knows you pretty well, sometimes you feel like you have to recreate yourself or do something a little bit different," he said. "We're going to do a few things different on offense - try and attack them a few different ways. It's tough in football to meet a team twice in a year and beat them twice in a year. In that aspect, it's really a challenge for both teams."
The Irish aren't without weapons of their own, however.
Junior quarterback Jeremiah Cox leads a potent DeSales passing attack with 1,706 yards passing and 22 touchdowns to only five interceptions. He is completing 65 percent of his passes for 12.7 yards per completion and 190 yards per game.
"He's been playing really well the last few weeks," Graham said. "He's had seven TDs to one INT in the last couple of weeks. He's a guy who can be dangerous at times.
"Jeremiah has done a great job getting the ball into playmakers' hands, and so we expect him to continue to do that this week," he said.
Joe Duehn has been Cox's favorite target this year. The junior receiver has caught 45 passes for 608 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ryan Baumgart, also a junior, will provide the deep-ball threat for DeSales. He has caught 11 touchdown passes and averaged 17.8 yards-per-catch.
Should the Irish defeat White Swan they will face the winner of the Colfax-Warden match on Nov. 19.
Friday's kickoff will be at 7 p.m. in White Swan, southwest of Yakima.