SPOKANE — Wa-Hi’s crossover match with Spokane’s Lewis and Clark Friday night at Joe Albi Stadium couldn’t have started much worse and finished much sweeter.
Wa-Hi (4-6) dug a quick 10-0 hole for itself after turning the ball over to the Tigers (4-6) on both of its first two possessions, but the Blue Devil defense clamped down and gave the offense time to complete a 20-17 comeback victory on a game-winning field goal from Dean Atkinson in overtime.
The win was especially sweet for Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw, who had seen his squad drop three close Mid-Columbia Conference games in the weeks prior.
“To see the joy and excitement, and see these kids go nuts and storm the field, to watch that happen, I know it was something that I’ll never forget,” Hisaw said. “It’s something you can’t put a price tag on. To see those kids celebrating — it was just beyond words.”
The victory was a role reversal for the Wa-Hi defense and offense, which finished MCC play at the bottom and top of the conference rankings, respectively.
The Blue Devils, who allowed 372 yards of total offense per game on average, limited Lewis and Clark’s potent pistol attack to just 297 yards on the night.
“Our defense was just absolutely fantastic,” Hisaw said. “They were just more physical and they made plays. They were just absolutely awesome tonight.”
Conversely the offense, by far the most prolific in the MCC, managed just 251 yards compared to its average of 381.
But Wa-Hi stepped up when it needed to, and scored 14 fourth-quarter points to put the game into overtime.
“In the second half our big boys started to roll,” Hisaw said of his defensive and offensive lines. “They became the offensive line they can be. When they play like that they’re as good as anyone in the league. Tonight our front seven on both sides of the ball played really, really well.”
Wa-Hi entered the fourth quarter trailing 10-3 after managing just a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter, but they were rolling. The Blue Devils finished off a nine-play, 68-yard drive that began with 3:37 left in the third when senior quarterback Dakota Turner connected with junior receiver Darnell Handcox for a 28-yard score. After a PAT the squads were tied at 10-all.
Turner had an accurate outing, completing 14-of-20 passes for 108 yards.
Handcox finished with four catches for 44 yards.
The Tigers had good field position for its next drive after a kick return set Lewis and Clark up with the ball at midfield and they drove down the field for a go-ahead score with 8:02 left in the game.
The Blue Devils saddled up and rode record-breaking running back Jonah Hoe for a 17-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ran off a massive 6:44 off the clock. Hoe capped the drive with a 9-yard run to tie the game at 17 with 1:11 left.
“We rode his back in that fourth quarter,” Hisaw said. “The strength of our team is our offensive line and Jonah (Hoe). Those kids stepped up and made plays.”
Hoe finished with 139 rushing yards on 33 carries and 42 receiving yards on four catches.
The defense held to force overtime and was again stalwart in the extra period after Wa-Hi won the toss and elected to play defense first.
Lewis and Clark started on the 25 and advanced to the Wa-Hi 1, but the Blue Devils held and the Tigers shanked a close field goal attempt.
Wa-Hi got down within the Lewis and Clark 10 on its possession but was forced to go to Atkinson, who booted an 18-yarder through the uprights for the victory.
Wa-Hi’s sideline erupted onto the field after the kick.
“Dean was just so confident,” Hisaw said. “He was excited for the moment. When you get a young man excited to make a big play in a pressure moment, then it’s just fun to watch him, knowing that he’ll succeed.”
In a game where neither team could muster much of an offense, punter Calab Alaniz had his best game of the season, Hisaw said, punting three times for an average of 42 yards.
“Caleb, he flipped the field,” Hisaw said. “He had a couple bombs. That was huge because it kind of swung the momentum for us. He did a great job handling the pressure tonight.”
For the 20 seniors on the Wa-Hi roster, the win was the perfect salve to what had been a season of close calls, and close losses.
“To lose so many close ones, this win is huge, huge, huge,” Hisaw said. “I’m not sure you can explain how important this win is to this program and these kids.”
Wa-Hi 20, Lewis and Clark 17
Wa-Hi 3 0 0 14 3 — 20
LC 10 0 0 7 0 — 17
LC — Fitzgerald 32 run (Martin kick)
LC — Martin 20 kick
Wa-Hi — Atkinson 38 kick
Wa-Hi — Handcox 28 pass from Turner (Atkinson kick)
LC — Fitzgerald 2 run (Martin kick)
Wa-Hi — Hoe 9 run (Atkinson kick)
Wa-Hi — Atkinson 18 kick
First downs 16 17
Rushes/yards 36-143 46-223
Passing yards 108 74
Passes (att-comp-int) 20-14-0 14-7-0
Punts 3-42.3 2-36
Fumbles-lost 4-3 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-29 6-56
RUSHING — Wa-Hi: Hoe 33-139 TD, Handcox 1-(-1), Gilvey 1-1, Gillin 1-4; LC: Fitzgerald: 31-181 2 TDs, Black 15-42.
PASSING — Wa-Hi: Turner 14-20-0 108 yards TD; LC: Black 7-14-0 74 yards.
RECEIVING — Wa-Hi: Handcox 4-44 TD, Gilvey 2-4, Hoe 4-42, Gilmore 1-5, Atkinson 2-8, Gillin 1-5; LC: Williams 3-40, Claypool 1-8, Smith 2-21, Duchman 1-5.