WALLA WALLA — Wa-Hi’s football team looks to have its best chance to pick up its first Mid-Columbia Conference win Friday night at 7 when it takes on Pasco at the Bulldogs’ Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium, and not just because the Bulldogs are winless.
Wa-Hi (0-3 MCC, 2-3 overall) has found a passing game to complement its run-heavy attack, with senior quarterback Dakota Turner throwing for more than 200 yards in losses to Kennewick and Hanford.
“We run the ball very, very well, and at times they’ve (Pasco) struggled against teams that rush it, so we’re going to continue to hang our hat on what we’re good at,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. “But we’ve been able to become a little bit more diverse in the last two weeks on offense, and so we’re going to try to utilize that as much as we can, too.”
The Blue Devils will benefit from the return of junior Darnell Handcox, and senior running back Jonah Hoe is a week further away from a shoulder sprain suffered against Hanford, which didn’t stop him from rushing for 136 yards on 29 carries and catching five passes for another 78.
Handcox, who dislocated a knee on his first reception of the season against Moses Lake, brings experience and speed to both the safety and receiver positions.
“Both sides of the ball, the kid just makes plays,” Hisaw said of Handcox. “He’s got savvy, and the kids have been waiting for him to get back. It will be a nice thing to have him back on the field and have him playing.”
Hoe got his yards against Kennewick despite dealing with shoulder soreness that even a cortizone shot couldn’t completely numb, and should be in better shape for Friday’s game with the winless Bulldogs (0-3 MCC, 0-5).
“He feels good,” Hisaw said of the workhorse running back. “He’s been going through drills, but non-contact. We’re not going to bang him around if we can help it. But he looks really good right now.”
Hisaw said Hoe even asked to return to the defensive side of the ball.
Pasco enters the contest after losing a 40-0 fiasco to Southridge, but despite averaging just seven points a game, and surrendering a league-worst 27.4 points per game, Hisaw said the Bulldogs are not to be taken lightly.
“They’re a physical football team,” Hisaw said. “They run the ball very well, they fly around on defense ... They play around and do some good things.
“It’s not like they’ve been waxed off the planet by everybody, so it’s a deceiving look at them. They do a lot of really good things and if we don’t play well, they will beat us.”
Wa-Hi, on the other hand, has averaged 22.8 points a game on offense and rolled up a league-best 1,819 yards of offense, but has been hampered by a defense that is susceptible to big plays.
Pasco running back Luis Murillo is a speedster that could give Wa-Hi fits if he can beat the Blue Devil defensive line to the corner.
“He’s very quick,” said Hisaw of Murillo, who has averaged 7.2 yards per carry this season. “He likes to run on the outside. He doesn’t get tackled very much by the first tackler, he’s a really good back. He runs very, very hard — different than a back we’ve seen.”
Stopping the run will be key for Wa-Hi, as the Bulldogs haven’t developed much of a passing game. Quarterbacks Brady Ritala and Sean McNeil have combined for just one touchdown and three interceptions for Pasco thus far.
“They don’t want to (throw the ball) if they can (avoid it),” Hisaw said. “But they’ve got a couple guys on the outside that are athletic and that do things really well, so we’ve got to make sure that when they do throw it, we’re ready for the ball coming to us.”
The Blue Devils will also need to limit mental mistakes — mistakes that proved costly in Wa-Hi’s loss to Kennewick.
“We just, for whatever reason, had a hard time getting lined up and didn’t seem to be us,” Hisaw said of the Kennewick loss. “You know, we made such growth from August 15th to before that weekend, that sometimes you take a step back and we just picked the wrong day to take a step back. Had it been on a Wednesday, it would have been just fine.”
Hisaw said the Blue Devils were confused by the multiple looks Kennewick showed on offense, but that Pasco should be more straightforward.
“It’s a different set between what Pasco runs,” Hisaw said. “They’re in about three different sets and Kennewick is in about 30, and so it’s a lot more simple to line up to Pasco.”
After passing for just 224 yards, two picks and a touchdown through Wa-Hi’s first three games, Turner has turned into a steady game manager for the Blue Devils.
Since being thrust into a more prominent role after Hoe’s injury against Hanford, Turner has completed 27-of-52 passes for 406 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“He’s (Turner) done a really good job managing the football game and keeping the ball in our hands,” Hisaw said. “Some of the best decisions he’s made in the last two weeks have been pulling the ball down and running with it at the right time and not forcing the issue.
“So he’s made some really great strides for us,” Hisaw said, “and I’m really proud of his mental improvement, more than the physical, because the mental has to come first and he’s done a great job of leading us and doing the right thing for us.”
Blue Devil offensive lineman Bryce Spendlove, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior starter, is questionable after suffering a knee sprain during warmups prior to the Kennewick game.