WALLA WALLA — Wa-Hi had their chances in Friday night’s loss to Hanford.
Four of them, at least, to either tie the game or win it, but the Falcons (3-1) escaped nonetheless with a 20-17 victory over the Blue Devils in a Mid-Columbia Conference football game at Borleske Stadium.
Like most three-point losses probably do, this one hurt.
“It really stings, you can’t lie about it,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. “You look at the way we played and, like you said, there were so many (chances) — one play here, one play there — more so than any game this year. It’s a really tough loss, there’s no other way to put it.
“I told them it’s the best effort I’ve seen all year long for four-straight quarters,” Hisaw continued. “They never died, they never quit, they had moments in the fourth quarter, and it just hurts really, really bad.”
With the then-league leading Jonah Hoe injured in the first half, the Blue Devils (2-2) found themselves forced to go to the air. Despite attempting only 10 passes a game in its first three games of the year, Wa-Hi found itself a workable passing game.
Senior quarterback Dakota Turner passed for 222 yards and an interception on a 15-for-28 performance, while Paul Gilmore caught six balls for 66 yards and Dean Atkinson four for 41.
“Dakota got in a really good rhythm and you ride the hot hand,” Hisaw said. “He played really well, and having Jonah go down was a big deal, so we tried to be more 50-50 (run-pass) than we normally are.”
Hoe added 71 yards on receptions out of the backfield before leaving the game after the first half, including a 47-yard catch and run on a designed jail-break screen that Turner completed under heavy pressure. Hoe also added a five-yard touchdown pass to convert a fourth-and-goal on a designed halfback pass.
Backup running back Stuart Gillin had a pair of catches for 41 yards.
Hoe, who has either a shoulder sprain or possibly a season-ending clavicle fracture, finished his night with 63 yards on 12 carries.
Once in a rhythm, Gillin showed a little speed and strength of his own, picking up 43 yards on 15 rushes.
“Once he kind of got going in the mix, he did a real nice job with some things,” Hisaw said of Gillin. “But you can’t replace Jonah, and we’re not going to try to. We’re going to be who we are. But Stu (Gillan) did a very nice job coming in and doing as well as he did.”
Hanford scored its three touchdowns on the night thanks to stalwart performances from its offensive line and senior burner Jalen DeVine.
DeVine, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound runningback, rushed for 262 yards on just 18 carries — an astounding 14.2 yards per carry.
He had two touchdown runs of 75 and 30 yards on the night and was at his best when sprung into the secondary by the massive Hanford offensive linemen, the lightest of which weighed in at 250 pounds.
“Credit Hanford,” Hisaw said. “They did a really good job of showing a scheme that we hadn’t seen run yet against us and it took us a little while to get it figured out.”
The Falcons were able to seal off Wa-Hi’s front seven to either the right or left and give the speedy DeVine vast space to run on the outside. Wa-Hi adjusted at the half to limit the big plays, but the damage was done.
“We had to move Logan (Reardon, a 245-pound lineman) from D-tackle to D-end to get a little heavier guy outside,” Hisaw said. “It was their big boys and it was just tough on our D-ends. They’re (Wa-Hi defenisve ends) quick, but 280, 250 against 160 is tough sometimes.”
Wa-Hi’s first missed chance to at least score a field goal came early in the game.
The Blue Devils forced a three-and-out on Hanford’s opening drive and, after fumbling the ensueing punt, held the Falcons to a short 42-yard field goal attempt to get the ball on their own 20 yard line.
Wa-Hi then drove 70 yards in 10 plays before stalling at the Hanford 10. Facing a third-and-9 the Blue Devils ran a jailbreak screen, but Turner’s scrambling toss was picked off by Hanford’s Xavier Johnson.
The teams traded punts and Wa-Hi broke the deadlock with a 42-yard Atkinson field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first half.
Hanford scored on the first play after the following kickoff, a 75-yarder from DeVine.
But the Blue Devils answered with a 9-play, 80 yard drive for a touchdown on Hoe’s halfback pass. The score came on a fourth-and-5 that the Blue Devils only attempted after Hanford called a timeout to ice Atkinson.
“That was a neat deal,” Hisaw said of the play. “We were going to go for three there, but they called timeout and we were kind of thinking, what is three points going to do for us? We’re going to get the ball back at the half. If we don’t (convert) they’re pinned down. So we called it to be aggressive and we called it to win the ballgame.
“Coach (Pat) Graham made a great play call, and credit to the kids: it was a great pass by Jonah (Hoe) and a great effort by Dean (Atkinson), laying out and diving for a great catch,” Hisaw said. “It was a big momentum changer for us.”
The Blue Devils were aggressive all game long, attempting four fourth-down conversions and succeeding on two.
With the touchdown Wa-Hi took a 10-7 lead with 4:43 remaining in the half.
But again Hanford answered, with DeVine gashing the Blue Devils for two 12-yard runs before breaking free for a 30-yard touchdown with 2:13 remaining in the half to take a 13-10 lead.
After the break Wa-Hi scored what ended up being its last points of the game with an 11-play, 76-yard drive that saw Turner pass the ball five times before carrying the ball into the endzone on a 16-yard scramble up the middle.
Wa-Hi limited, but couldn’t stop Hanford’s rushing attack after the half and the Falcons scored the winning touchdown with 4:45 remaining in the third. Hanford’s bowling ball of a fullback, 5-5, 170-pound Austin Taylor, dissappeared up the middle for the seven-yard score and a 20-17 lead.
Wa-Hi missed a 32-yard kick on the ensuing drive that would have tied the game, and failed fourth-down conversions, each with only two yards to go, killed Wa-Hi’s chances of a win.
The Blue Devils held Hanford scoreless for the remainder of the game, including forcing a turnover on downs after holding on fourth-and-1 with 23 seconds remaining, but the Blue Devils weren’t able to go the 65 yards required to score, or the 30 or so to set up a field goal, and the game ended as Turner was sacked.
This was somewhat of a statement game for the Blue Devils, as was Wa-Hi’s loss to Richland in the second season of the season. It was a chance to put to rest the ghosts of an 0-9 season with a win over the creme of the Mid-Columbia crop, but again Wa-Hi fell just painfully short.
But it was also Wa-Hi’s best showing of the year.
“It’s as complete a four quarters as we played all year long, and that’s a really good football team,” Hisaw said. “We mashed them in the face, they mashed us in the face, it was just a great high school football game if you like old-school football.
“It think as a program, we made a jump,” Hisaw said. “That’s a team that, if you don’t stand up to them, they’re going to hit you in the face and it’s going to be a real long night. And our kids just refused to back down.”
Wa-Hi gets another chance at a statement game Friday at 7 p.m. when it visits Kennewick.
Hanford 20, Walla Walla 17
Hanford 0 13 7 0 — 20
Walla Walla 0 10 7 0 — 17
Wa-Hi — Atkinson 42 kick.
Han — DeVine 75 rush (Slack kick).
Wa-Hi — Atkinson 5 pass from Hoe (Atkinson kick).
Han — DeVine 31 rush (kick failed).
Wa-Hi — Turner 16 rush (Atkinson kick).
Han — Taylor 7 rush (Slack kick).
First downs 10 22
Rushes/yards 31-307 40-138
Passing yards 227 8
Passes (att-comp-int) 12-2-1 29-16-1
Punts 3-125 2-81
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 9-119 5-30
RUSHING — Han: DeVine 18-262 2 TD, Reyes 1-4, Taylor 8-39 TD, Forsyth 2-8, Bishop 1-0, Slack 1-2; Wa-Hi: Hoe 12-63, Gilvey 7-32, Gillin 15-43, Turner 5-(-1) TD, Hayes 1-1.
PASSING — Han: Forsyth 2-12-1 8 yards; Wa-Hi: Turner 15-28-1 222 yards, Hoe 1-1-0 5 yards TD.
RECEIVING — Han: Green 1-4, DeVine 1-4; Wa-Hi: Gilmore 6-66, Hoe 3-71, Gillin 2-41, Atkinson 4-41, Grandstaff 1-8.