WALLA WALLA — After playing the top two teams in the Mid-Columbia Conference — Kamiakin and Southridge — and coming up painfully short in both games, Wa-Hi now faces the hottest team in the league.
After beginning the season in a 0-3 hole, the Chiawana Riverhawks have gone on a five-game rampage, including victories over both the Braves and the Suns, and now have clinched a berth into the 4A play-ins with the Greater Spokane League. It’s a berth that would have been on the line when Wa-Hi visits Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium Friday night at 7 had the Blue Devils managed the same — victories against Kamiakin and Southridge.
Nevertheless, don’t expect the Blue Devils (1-5 MCC, 3-5 overall) to lay down against the 5-3 (3-3 in league) Riverhawks, Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said.
“They’ve beaten the two teams that we lost to, but those two teams aren’t better than us,” Hisaw said of the Riverhawks. “So like I told the kids all week long, it’s a game I expect to be able to win, and if they beat us it’s going to be an upset because I think we’re as good as anybody.”
The Blue Devils enter the match with the most prolific offense in the league, but they haven’t been able to translate that into wins.
After a 45-27 blowout win over winless Pasco in the first week of October, the Blue Devils have lost two games by a combined nine points.
Against Southridge, a 21-14 loss, the Blue Devils weren’t able to score until the fourth quarter. And against Kamiakin, Wa-Hi was down 35-13 heading into the fourth quarter before storming back with three straight touchdowns and was a missed PAT and failed 2-point conversion away from a tie.
The slow starts are a trend the Blue Devils have focused on this week.
“We haven’t adjusted to the speed of the game at the start very well,” Hisaw said. “It’s like it takes us a series or two to see, ‘OK that’s how fast, let’s play that fast now.’ Rather than coming out and expecting the game to be fast, we look to see how fast it is going to be.
“So what we’ve tried a bunch to talk about this practice is, ‘Hey, we’ve got to start right now from play one and set a tempo, not have a tempo set to us,’” Hisaw said.
Against the Riverhawks, who went 8-0 before falling to the GSL’s Mead in a play-in game in 2011, the Blue Devils will need to start strong and finish strong.
Southridge opened a 14-0 lead before the half last week against Chiawana before the Riverhawks came back for a 17-14 victory.
“So they really kind of settled in on the old Pasco and Chiawana stuff that they’ve always done,” Hisaw said. “They’ve kind of found where they’re at. They’re playing physical like they always have, and they tackle very, very well.
“They’ve got everything handled again.”
Chiawana’s offense hasn’t been overpowering, but they’ve done enough, winning their last five games by an average of five points.
“They are just a one back and zone counter (offense), regular passing and some bootleg stuff,” Hisaw said of the Riverhawks. “They’re nothing fancy, they just do it very, very well.”
On defense the Riverhawks have been vulnerable to the run, surrendering 1,568 yards on the ground, but have been stout against the passing game, allowing just 708 yards through the air this season.
Chiawana likes to run a cover two defense with four down linemen and three standing backers, Hisaw said, but they have changed it up at times this season.
“They’re just a hard-nosed, physical football team,” Hisaw said.
As for the Blue Devils, they will continue to do what they have done all season long — hand the ball to Jonah Hoe and mix in some play action passes from Dakota Turner to try and keep the Riverhawks honest.
“We’re going to be who we are,” Hisaw said.
The Blue Devils have Friday’s game and a game against a yet-to-be determined GSL foe left before the end of the season. Despite that, Wa-Hi still has a chance to finish the season at .500, although that’s not what the Blue Devil seniors had been hoping for.
“They had that expectation of having the chance to be the first to (go to the playoffs) in a long time,” Hisaw said of his seniors. “They wanted that really, really bad.
“But we talked about it and there’s a lot to play for still,” Hisaw said. It’s your last league game in the first year of the new conference, how do you want people to remember you the last two games of the year? Are you going to quit because things didn’t go your way, or are you going to rise up and play hard because that’s the way that we’re going to play in this kind of a program?”