WALLA WALLA — Friday night’s matchup between Mid-Columbia Conference foes Wa-Hi and Southridge promises to be one of contrasting strengths.
Wa-Hi’s offense, top-ranked after accumulating 2,365 yards and 159 points six games into the season, faces a Suns defense that leads the league in yards allowed and yards allowed per play (1,345 and 3.98).
Southridge, however, brings an offense to Borleske Stadium that has managed just 3.9 yards per play and ranks last in the MCC for total yardage.
And, similarly, Wa-Hi’s defense is second-to-last in points allowed (149), yards allowed per play (6.65) and total yards allowed (2,216).
“They’re the best collective unit we’ve seen on defense all year long, without question,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said of the Suns.
Although Southridge (3-1 MCC, 4-2) won’t have the largest defense Wa-Hi has seen this season, it brings physicality, solid tackling and speed to the table, Hisaw said.
“They have caused problems all year long for people,” Hisaw said. “But at the same time, they are 17-year-old kids like we are, and I think our kids are ready for the challenge. I’m looking forward to it — I really am, actually.”
On offense, Wa-Hi (1-3 MCC, 3-3) won’t stray away from its hard-nosed, run-first style.
“They slant and they move a bunch (on defense),” Hisaw said of Southridge. “I don’t think they can just stand there and play toe-to-toe, I think they have to move. But again, as physical as we are up front, I think as the game goes on I hope we get in a groove.”
League-leading rusher Jonah Hoe may not roll up as many explosive plays as he did in a record-setting performance against Pasco last week, but he will remain the focal point of the Blue Devil offense, whether that be rushing the ball or making catches out of the backfield.
“We want the ball to go through No. 20’s (Hoe’s) hands whenever we possibly can in the scheme of things,” Hisaw said. “But we’ve got to keep things balanced ... We now have about five or six guys that have all about eight-to-12 catches. So you can’t afford to go just take care of one guy because we spread it around really, really well.”
The Blue Devils defense has been susceptible to big plays this season, but faces an offense that hasn’t had a whole lot of success.
With passers Connor Grigg and Grant Lathim completing less than 40 percent of their passes and combining for eight interceptions and three touchdowns, most of the offensive load has fallen on the running game and junior Kadin Diaz.
Diaz (a 5-foot-9, 190-pound bowling ball) has rushed for 666 yards on 120 carries and scored six touchdowns.
“They’ve got a really, really physical running back,” Hisaw said. “He reminds me a lot of the (Devven) Ramos kid (Kennewick’s leading rusher). Not as fast, but I think more physical at times. So they’ve been able to run the ball pretty well on people and keep the game balanced in terms of time of possession.”
With only three games left in the season (including Friday’s), now is the time for Wa-Hi’s defense to step up, Hisaw said.
“Most of the big plays are our own fault,” he said. “They honestly are. It’s a missed assignment, it’s linemen situated where it’s been wrong, and that’s kind of been our Achille’s heel.
“But I think we’re a good defensive group,” Hisaw said. “I don’t think we’re great, but I think we’re a good group.”
Despite having won just one league game this season, Wa-Hi holds its postseason hopes in its own hands two-thirds of the way through the season.
The MCC has four Class 4A schools (Wa-Hi, Richland, Chiawana and Pasco) and two play-in games with the Greater Spokane League to split among them.
Richland, at 3-2, needs only one more win to guarantee itself a postseason berth.
Winless Pasco (0-4) would need to win out to have a chance.
That leaves the battle for the second berth to Wa-Hi and Chiawana (2-3). Wa-Hi need only win one more game and beat Chiawana in its final game of the regular season to guarantee itself a berth to a play-in game against the GSL.
Kickoff Friday is 7 p.m.