PASCO — Wa-Hi’s offense got off to a rollicking start against Chiawana Friday night in the final Mid-Columbia Conference match of the season for both teams, but it was unable to maintain the pace after the first half and the Blue Devil defense proved too porous as Chiawana came back from a 35-26 fourth-quarter deficit to post a 39-35 victory.
The loss occurred in a gut-wrenching fashion.
After Chiawana scored consecutive touchdowns to take a 39-35 lead, Wa-Hi took over on its own 20 yard line with 2:26 remaing to score.
The Blue Devils drove down to the Riverhawk 6 and were poised to take the lead, but senior quarterback Dakota Turner was picked off in the end zone with 38 seconds remaining, effectively ending the game.
Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw struggled to describe his emotions after the loss.
“Sledgehammer, boulder, pinned down, nowhere to go — I’m just sick to my stomach,” Hisaw said. “I feel so, so bad for these kids. They played so hard tonight.”
The Blue Devils (1-6 MCC, 3-6 overall) have now lost three straight games since defeating Pasco at Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium on Oct. 5. The average margin of defeat in those three games: just four points.
Chiawana (4-3, 6-3) has now won six games in a row and faces Gonzaga Prep in Spokane Friday for a play-in to the WIAA playoffs.
Other than the end-zone pick, Turner had an exceptional game, throwing for 166 yards and four touchdowns on 10-of-17 passing. However, all four of those scores came in the first half.
“Dakota was outstanding again tonight,” Hisaw said. “He’s had two games now where he’s just been absolutely lights out.”
Jonah Hoe rushed for 183 yards on 37 carries and, with 1,689 yards this season, now holds the Wa-Hi single-season rushing record. The previous record was 1,515 yards set by Jake Klingenberg in 2004.
But the Blue Devils weren’t able to stop Riverhawks running back Austin Urlacher, who carried the ball 11 times for 99 yards in the second half, and quarterback Joey Zamora was able to make enough plays to keep Wa-Hi honest, including touchdown passes of 23 and 58 yards.
Chiawana outgained the Blue Devils 437-371 overall.
“We didn’t make enough plays offensively, and defensively, to win the game,” Hisaw said. “We had our chances and we just didn’t make enough plays throughout the game.”
The Blue Devils’ only offense after winning the track meet that was the first half was a 48-yard fumble return from Forrest Swant that put Wa-Hi up 35-26.
Urlacher and Zamora dominated from there, however. Urlacher had runs of six, seven and 13 yards before capping the ensuing drive with a touchdown with 9:52 left in the game.
Wa-Hi drove down to the Chiawana 30 on the following possession, but stalled there as a Hoe rush was first dropped for no gain on third-and-1, then for a two-yard loss on fourth down.
With the momentum in hand and the sparsely populated home stands cheering, Urlacher carried the ball eight times for 49 yards and Zamora completed two passes, one a four-yarder for the winning score and Chiawana’s first lead since the first half.
Urlacher repeatedly had large holes to run through, including on his 30-yard score in which the Riverhawks were able to seal off the Wa-Hi line and allow Urlacher into the end zone untouched.
“I wish that I would have been up in (the press box),” Hisaw said, “because I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t get a backer in there to stop the counter. Again, credit to Chiawana for adjusting to what we tried to adjust to at halftime as well, thinking they were going to run it. We just have a really difficult time stopping the counter right now.”
The first half began in a back-and-forth fashion, as the Blue Devils and Riverhawks traded touchdowns on four straight possessions.
After Wa-Hi went three-and-out on the opening drive of the game, Chiawana drove 63 yards in nine plays to open scoring with a four-yard touchdown run from Clifton Lozano.
The Blue Devils, who had struggled to score in the first half in each of its two previous losses, answered with an 11-play drive of their own culminating with a perfectly thrown 19-yard strike from Turner to Jake Grandstaff for a score.
Zamora answered right back with a 58-yard pass to Dre Dorton to regain the lead, 13-7, after a blocked PAT.
The teams traded scores again, with a Turner pass to Paul Gilmore for five yards and a Zamora pass to Dorton moving the score to 19-14, Chiawana.
Wa-Hi used a bit of trickery to convert a fourth-and-4 on its next drive. The Blue Devils executed a near-perfect flea-flicker and Turner lofted a ball to a wide-open Darnell Handcox for a 37-yard touch.
A Chiawana fumble on the ensuing kickoff return gave Wa-Hi the ball back at Chiawana’s 35. The Blue Devils made quick work of the opportunity and Turner completed his final scoring pass to Handcox for 12 yards as time wound down on the half.
Wa-Hi now visits the GSL’s Central Valley (7-2) in a crossover game Friday at 7 p.m.