WALLA WALLA - Starting a season 0-3 would mean a steady drop in morale for a lot of high school football teams.
Despite setbacks to Hermiston, Southridge and Wenatchee, that doesn't appear to be the case at Wa-Hi.
"These kids are awesome. They're great," Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. "They got right back to work banging heads. We're excited to play Friday night."
The Blue Devils are going to need everything they can muster this week when they travel to Pasco's Edgar Brown Stadium to face the defending Big Nine Conference 4A champion and 3-0 Chiawana Riverhawks.
Wa-Hi came out of last week's 38-17 loss to Wenatchee at Borleske Stadium in good shape physically. Wide receiver Moe Handcox and running back Jonah Hoe (who both suffered from cramping during the game) and backup tight end and defensive end Tanner Cranor (who was day-to-day this week with a slight knee twinge) are expected to play, Hisaw said.
The Blue Devil coach noted that last week's defeat to the undefeated Panthers was closer than the final 21-point spread indicates. Wenatchee held just a five-point margin, 22-17, midway through the fourth quarter.
"We watched film as a staff and (assistant) coach (Mike) Gobel said we were 30 plays better than we were two weeks ago," Hisaw said. "We showed the way we could play in the second half against Southridge.
"Against Wenatchee, we were six-to-eight plays away from winning," Hisaw said. "We're trying to keep our mistakes to a (minimum). The kids are flying, running and playing with a passion right now. It's neat to see."
Kicker Dean Atkinson tied a school record for most field goals in a game with three against Wenatchee, including a 39-yard effort in the third quarter.
"I asked him what his range was and he said, ‘Thirty-five,'" Hisaw said. "I said, ‘Go kick it,' and he said, ‘O.K.!'"
Like his coach, Handcox realizes a tweak here and a tweak there could mean the difference between success and disappointment.
"We're working on things we need to improve on to get better," Handcox said after one of this week's practices. "We were a half-step slow on a couple of assignments (against Wenatchee), but nothing major. It's still early in the season. We have a lot of football ahead of us. We're right there."
Center Jeremy Larson said the mood this week has been positive.
"We need to keep getting better," Larson said. "As linemen, we need to give the extra effort, get downfield, and get hats on more people. We've got to keep going forward. We can't stop, even if something doesn't go our way."
The Riverhawks went to Yakima last week and opened league play with a 42-13 romp over Eisenhower.
"They have tremendous athletes, and are well-coached and physical," Hisaw said. "We're going to see how tough we are this week."
Running back Jordan Downing rushed 34 times for 194 yards and tallied three touchdowns against the Cadets, while quarterback Joey Zamora was an efficient 7-of-12 for 117 yards and a pair of scores.
"Their running back is the real deal," Hisaw said. "Downing is as good a running back as we'll see all year. He's a punisher with the will to play the position. If you can stop him, you can beat Chiawana. If you can't, they'll march down your throat. Their quarterback does enough to keep you honest. He's so athletic they like to move him in the pocket."
On defense, Chiawana plays the 4-3.
"They'll punch you in the mouth," Hisaw said. "They are physical. They tackle well."
Game time is 7:30 Friday night in Pasco.