WALLA WALLA —The DeSales and Waitsburg-Prescott football teams open the Washington Class 2B state playoffs this weekend.
The Irish (6-3 overall, 3-1 in Southeast 2B play) square off with Lind-Ritzville-Sprague (10-0 overall) in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal playoff game, which the Broncos won 21-14.
Lind-Ritzville-Sprague enters the game with an unblemished 9-0 record on the season. The two teams play at 7 p.m. Friday at Ritzville High School.
Waitsburg-Prescott (7-2 overall, 3-1 in Southeast 2B play) enters the state playoffs for the fifth straight time, as W-P will count on its experience to slow down Adna High School’s potent run-heavy offense.
W-P faces the Pirates (7-3, 5-3 in Central 2B play) at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco at 4:30 p.m on Saturday.
DeSales’ head coach Mike Spiess called the Broncos the best team, on paper, heading into the playoffs. Lind-Ritzville has rolled off 22 straight victories, dating back to last year’s state championship team.
“They’re a familiar opponent,” Spiess said. “We’re familiar with what they want to do. They’re familiar with what we want to do. It’s good to match up with a team you know really well. We enjoy the challenge of playing a well-coached program that’s the best team in the state right now. Hopefully we can respond to it.”
Spiess said the Broncos feature multiple formations on offense, but usually rely on their ground game. With two capable running backs and a mobile quarterback, Spiess said the Irish’s defense is looking to take advantage of any Broncos’ mistakes.
“For us, it’s going to be being disciplined — doing your assignments, playing hard and flying to the ball,” Spiess said. “Really what it is for us is competing. It’s getting your group of guys together and going out and competing.”
DeSales enters the playoffs after a dramatic 42-41 two-overtime win against Davenport in the District 7/9 crossover game last week. Quarterback Connor Richard threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns in the win.
After losing three running backs to injury, Spiess said the Irish were down to their fourth-string running back against Davenport. With a loss spelling the end of the season, the coach said he relied on his junior signal-caller to carry the offensive burden.
“(Davenport’s) defense was putting a lot of pressure on our running game and we decided we were going to put it on Connor,” Spiess said. “He had a big game. We need to be able to run the ball, but we’ve got to be able to throw the ball. That’s going to give us a chance on offense.”
Spiess said he is looking forward to the challenge of facing the defending state champions on their home turf.
But after starting the season 3-3 and dealing with multiple injuries, Spiess said his team has responded admirably during the Irish’s three-game win streak.
“Every week has been a struggle for our kids mentally and physically,” Spiess said. “We’ve had to make adjustments on the fly and compete right down to the last whistle. Lind-Ritzville hasn’t had to do that. You have to find any advantages you can.”
Waitsburg-Prescott enters the postseason fresh off a 41-14 win against Liberty (Spangle) in the District 7/9 crossover game last week.
Adna has been rolling of late, as the Pirates rebounded from dropping their first three games to winning their last seven.
W-P head coach Jeff Bartlow said Adna relied on the spread offense in its the first three games, before moving to the wishbone for the remainder of the season.
In facing a run-heavy offense, Bartlow said W-P must score early to force Adna to throw the ball.
“If we score and get ahead of them, then they don’t have time to run their offense,” Bartlow said. “Our goal and our vision is to try and stop their run, continue to spread our field and use our athletes in space.”
Bartlow said W-P has only seen the wishbone offense once this season, but faced it in last year’s playoffs. Bartlow used a similar tactic of scoring early and W-P rolled to a 39-12 victory against Reardan.
Bartlow said Adna will likely bring both of its tight ends in on the line of scrimmage and run counters off the edges. With three capable runners in the backfield, in the Pirates’ quarterback and two running backs, the W-P defense must remain committed to staying home against blockers, Bartlow said.
“Sometimes we have guys that think they can sit and rest on the field,” Bartlow said. “That’s the biggest concern — competing hard on every play and every situation.”
W-P will likely rely on its playoff experience on both sides of the football. The offensive and defensive lines, for example, boast five seniors that have made the playoffs in each season.
W-P’s junior offensive trio of quarterback Owen Lanning, running back Chance Leroue and wide receiver Devin Acevedo will also be counted on for leadership, Bartlow said. Both Acevedo and Leroue started as freshmen for the 2011 state championship team.
“I was telling these kids that were juniors and seniors on the team they’re leaders,” Bartlow said. “They’ve seen it because we’ve been successful in the playoffs. They get to step up and lead the team in this little run we’re trying to make. That’s how we want it.”
Waitsburg-Prescott enters the playoffs with wins in five of its last six games. In each win during that span, W-P has posted more than 40 points.
But for Bartlow and the rest of his football squad, November football means no room for error.
“Winning is contagious, and when you do lose you learn from it,” Bartlow said. “You watch, you look, you study and you get better. That’s what happened when we lost to Asotin. We tried to take advantage of a painful deal and get better. The thing now is when you lose, you have to wait until next year. This is now, do-or-die.”