WALLA WALLA — The Blue Devils had all the momentum.
After an ugly first half that saw Richland take a 7-0 lead into the break, Wa-Hi exploded for three touchdowns on 190 yards in the third quarter, two of which came within 11 seconds of each other after a converted onside kick.
“We were physical, we were dominant, we were energetic,” Wa-Hi head coach Eric Hisaw said of the third stanza. “That was just tremendous football. In every phase of the game, I thought we were absolutely awesome.”
But then that quarter ended, and so too did the Wa-Hi rally.
Richland quarterback Zack Whitby found Deric Samples for a 34-yard completion to convert a third-and-33 as the fourth quarter began, setting up the first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Bombers went on to defeat Wa-Hi 26-20 in Mid-Columbia Conference football Friday night.
“That (long third-down conversion) really took the wind out of us,” Hisaw said. “I don’t have words for that. It’s going to keep me awake at night for nights.
“I thought we battled well in the fourth quarter, I really do,” Hisaw said. “We just didn’t make a play.”
Whitby threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-29 passing in the victory.
Tailback Josh Phillips, who wasn’t one to be brought down by an arm-tackle, gashed Wa-Hi (1-1) for 180 yards and two touchdowns (including a 50-yarder) on 28 carries.
After managing just 100 yards of offense in the first half, Wa-Hi finished the game with 318 yards.
The Bombers (1-1) entered with the league’s No. 2 defense after holding Southridge to nine points in a 9-7 loss last week in Kennewick.
Jonah Hoe again led the Blue Devils with 131 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while Zach Gilvey took seven handoffs for 56 yards.
After throwing a pick on the first play from scrimmage for Wa-Hi and only attempting one other throw in the first half, senior quarterback Dakota Turner proved instrumental in leading Wa-Hi’s third-quarter rally.
“He made some really big throws tonight,” Hisaw said of Turner. “There’s throws that last year he didn’t see, but this year he hit them. He did a really nice job for us in that second half, taking care of the rock and getting away from it (pressure) at the right time.”
Turner finished with six completions on nine attempts for 90 yards and a 30-yard touchdown.
Wa-Hi’s offense began in reverse, with Turner’s pick setting Richland up with a 1st-and-10 on the Blue Devil 15, but the defense held the Bombers to a 27-yard field goal attempt that sailed left.
After a Blue Devil drive ended in a punt, Richland was finally able to enter the end zone when Whitby found tight end Cody O’Toole for a 26 yard score with 3:31 left in the first.
Richland looked to score again a drive later, but Sheldon Liikala dropped a fourth-and-13 strike from Whitby that would have put the Bombers up by two scores with three minutes gone in the second quarter.
Instead, the ball was turned over on downs and both teams traded punts until the half.
“I thought the defense was really solid,” Hisaw said of the early goings. “It was a game that could have been really ugly early. We were just awful on offense (in the first half), at every position.”
Wa-Hi’s Turner found tight end Paul Trapani for a 32-yard completion along the near sideline to the Blue Devil 40 to key an opening-drive touchdown in the second half.
Hoe churned out seven- and five-yard carries as the Blue Devils crossed midfield.
Fullback Gilvey barrelled ahead for an 18-yard gain two plays later that set Wa-Hi up with a first down on the 25, and Hoe punched it in with runs of 13 and 12 yards to tie the game at 7.
Four plays later, Richland running back Philips broke ankles and tackles with a 50-yard score as Richland regained the lead, 13-7, after a bad snap on the free point.
Wa-Hi answered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that saw Turner make three completions for 39 yards, including a nine-yard jailbreak screen to Hoe.
After an incompletion and a false start set Wa-Hi up with a fourth-and-10 on the Bomber 29, Turner again found Trapani for a 15-yard gain. A 12-yard gain from Gilvey later, Hoe punched in the two-yard score with 1:41 remaining in the quarter.
“It was just a full team thing,” Turner said. “Everything just stepped up. Hisaw kind of kicked our buts in here (locker room) at halftime and it just kind of clicked and our energy picked back up like it was after week one.”
The Blue Devils recovered a Dean Atkinson onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and pulled ahead, 20-13, after Turner completed a 30-yard bomb to Atkinson for a touchdown on the very next play.
“We knew they had kind of a gap up the middle and we saw their two big linemen, so we’re going to take advantage of that of course,” Atkinson, a slender 5-10 senior, said. “I was just trying to put a lot of height under it and let my boys get down there.”
The touchdown was Atkinson’s first on varsity.
“Oh, it was so great,” he said of scoring. “I’ve never had a greater feeling.”
Richland tied the game with the next drive and took a 26-20 lead with 6:31 remaining in the game after a Wa-Hi three-and-out.
With time to burn, the Blue Devil running game went to work, but running back Stuart Gillin, who rushed for 37 yards on nine carries, was met in the backfield for a two-yard loss on third-and-2 at the Wa-Hi 41 and the Blue Devils punted with 3:53 remaining.
Richland ran out the clock in eight plays.
“It’s a tough loss,” Turner said. “I still feel like the team, we were a better team than they are. We worked hard, it’s just the first half we came out flat.
“Maybe it’s because of (the Blue Devils’) first win in a year and a half,” Turner said of last week’s win over Moses Lake, “but we just weren’t ready to go as a group.”
The Blue Devils travel to Yakima Friday to take on Columbia Basin Big Nine Davis (0-2) in their first road game of the season.
Richland 26, Wa-Hi 20
Richland 7 0 6 13 — 26
Walla Walla 0 0 20 0 — 20
Rich — O’Toole 26 pass from Whitby (Garza kick).
Wa-Hi — Hoe 12 run (Atkinson kick).
Rich — Philips 50 run (kick failed).
Wa-Hi — Hoe 2 run (Atkinson kick).
Wa-Hi — Atkinson 30 pass from Turner (kick failed).
Rich — Philips 10 run (Garza kick).
Rich — McGeorge 6 pass from Whitby (kick failed).
First downs 26 20
Rushes/yards 39-186 43-318
Passing yards 186 90
Passes (att-comp-int) 29-15-0 9-6-1
Punts 3-121 6-175
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-34 4-42
RUSHING — Richland: Philips 28-180-2, Whitby 5-5, Baird 5-29, Redden 1-7; Wa-Hi: Hoe 23-131 2 TDs, Gillin 9-37, Gilvey 7-56, Turner 3-8.
PASSING — Richland: Whitby 15-29-0 186 yards 2 TDs; Wa-Hi: Turner 6-9 67 yards TD.
RECEIVING — Richland: Redden 2-12, McGeorge 3-22 TD, Baird 2-28, O’Toole 1-26 TD, Liikala 5-51, Kneblik 1-14, Samples 1-33; Wa-Hi: Trapani 3-50, Hoe 1-9, Atkinson 1-30.