WALLA WALLA — A three-touchdown bonanza during a five-minute, 52-second stretch in the second quarter was the difference maker Friday night as Wa-Hi posted a 28-0 victory over Kennewick in a Mid-Columbia Conference football game at Borleske Stadium.
The Blue Devils (2-1 MCC, 3-2 overall) have now won three straight games and dealt the Lions their fourth loss in five contests.
A Wa-Hi fumble on the fourth play from scrimmage gave the visitors an early scoring opportunity at the Blue Devil 27-yard line.
But after a holding penalty on its first offensive snap of the game, Kennewick netted just 13 yards on its next four plays and turned the ball over on downs.
“The kids never panicked,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. “They believe in their ability to play defense.”
A Darnell Handcox interception — his first of three thefts in the contest — stopped the Lions’ third offensive series and gave Wa-Hi possession of the ball at its 17 early in the second quarter.
The pick set the stage for an offensive explosion.
Following a pass completion of five yards from quarterback Zach Zehner to wide receiver Mitchell Huffman and a four-yard run by Willie Hayes, the Blue Devils faced third-and-1 just across their 25.
Zehner — back peddling away from a Kennewick pass rush — dumped off a short pass over the pride of Lions to running back Stuart Gillin, who raced 74 yards for the game’s first touchdown with 8:48 showing on the clock.
“It’s a play we’d never run before,” Gillin said. “Coach (Pat) Graham drew it up. He saw something in their defense we could expose. The play was a testament to what (the offensive line was) doing.”
Five plays after the ensuing kickoff, the Lions were forced to punt. A 40-yard effort by Anthony Arroyo pinned Wa-Hi back at its 8.
Hayes rushed for nine yards and five yards prior to Noah Porter busting loose for a 78-yard scamper to the Kennewick goal line at the 5:53 mark.
“I was tied up in the beginning, escaped, saw this gap, and took it,” Porter said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to make it through. I was able to keep my balance and run free.”
Lions’ defensive back and starting quarterback Dylan Tennancour suffered an injury on the touchdown play and was taken to a local hospital for precautionary purposes.
Handcox greeted backup quarterback Josh Kutzke rudely with an interception on Kennewick’s next possession and returned it 38 yards to the Lions’ 18.
A holding penalty and a two-yard rushing loss left the Blue Devils with second-and-23 at the Lions’ 31.
But not to worry. Zehner, who threw for 171 yards and rushed for 34 on the night, lofted a six-point deep ball down the middle to tight end Gerardo Gomez with 2:56 remaining.
The Blue Devils led 21-0 at halftime.
“Zach Zehner was outstanding,” Hisaw said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a weapon with the ball in his hands.”
Hayes scored Wa-Hi’s final touchdown of the evening — on a four-yard run — with 6:29 left in the third quarter. The six-pointer occurred one snap after Trever Coronado blocked an Arroyo punt and teammate Nick Fuller secured the ball on the 4.
The last of four successful PAT kicks by Ethan Gardner provided the final margin for the Blue Devils’ triumph.
Defensively, the Blue Devils gave up just 178 yards (91 rushing, 87 passing). Wa-Hi has not allowed a point in nine of its last 10 quarters, including seven straight.
“Both sides of the ball played consistent,” said Hayes, a linebacker. “We knew we had to make a (defensive) stand (in the first quarter).”
“Everything is starting to come together,” fellow backer Forrest Swant said. “We’re getting everyone in the right positions. We’ll keep trying to keep opponents to the least number of points we possibly can.
“I try to come out, give the best effort, and be as physical as I can,” said Swant, who also contributes on special teams. “I try to provide the spark that gets everyone going.”
“The kids believe if they keep fighting, something good is going to happen,” Hisaw said. “We made some plays. We fought for an extra yard. The kids willed themselves into great plays.”
Wa-Hi will shoot for its fourth straight win when it hosts Pasco for its homecoming game next Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s something I haven’t experienced,” Gillin said. “The last time I won four in a row was in the eighth grade.”
“We’re starting to change the program,” Hayes said. “It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Blue Devil defender Ruben Avalos suffered a concussion while attempting to tackle Kennewick running back Dwight Norwood on the final play of the first quarter. His status for next week’s game is unknown, Hisaw said.
Wa-Hi 28, Kennewick 0
Kennewick 0 0 0 0 — 0
Wa-Hi 0 21 7 0 — 28
Wa-Hi — Gillin 74 pass from Zehner (Gardner kick).
Wa-Hi — Porter 78 run (Gardner kick).
Wa-Hi — Gomez 31 pass from Zehner (Gardner kick).
Wa-Hi — Hayes 4 run (Gardner kick).
First downs 14 12
Rushes/yards 33-91 34-152
Passing yards 87 171
Passes (att-comp-int) 28-11-4 26-12-2
Punts 5-28.6 3-29
Fumbles-lost 7-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 2-20 5-46
RUSHING — Kenn: Norwood 26-113, Tennancour 1-1, Kutzke 1-1, Team 5-(-24); Wa-Hi: Porter 13-116-1, Zehner 6-34, Hayes 6-31, A. Krump 2-2, Gillin 1-2, Coronado 1-2, Wicklund 2-(-5), Team 3-(-30).
PASSING — Kenn: Tennancour 4-9-1, 14 yards, 0 TDs, Kutzke 5-13-3, 43 yards, 0 TDs, Mat. Driver 2-6-0, 30 yards, 0 TDs; Wa-Hi: Zehner 12-26-2, 171 yards, 2 TDs.
RECEIVING — Kenn: Ma. Driver 4-54, Norwood 2-13, Ruby 2-7, Albertin 2-3, Plew 1-10; Wa-Hi: Huffman 5-37, Gillin 2-85-1, Gomez 1-31-1, Magnaghi 1-16, Swant 1-5, Handcox 1-2, Porter 1-(-5).