By ROY ELIA
of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
WALLA WALLA — Friday’s Mid-Columbia Conference football matchup between Wa-Hi (0-1 MCC, 1-2 overall) and Hanford (1-2, 1-2) will feature two teams that will likely take the Fran Rish Stadium turf with a bit more bounce in their collective steps.
Both squads picked up their first victories of the 2013 season last week. The Blue Devils rallied from an 18-7 halftime deficit to stun Davis, 28-18, at Borleske Stadium while the Falcons soared to a 40-21 triumph over Pasco.
“We got a win against a team we should have beaten in my opinion,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. “It was good to get so the kids know they have a good football team.”
One key component of last Friday’s victory, Hisaw said, was halftime adjustments on defense.
The Blue Devils, which surrendered 314 yards in the first half, limited the Pirates to 84 yards over the final two quarters.
“I was really proud of the way they (the coaches) dissected what happened in the first half and their plan of attack in the second half,” Hisaw said. “We couldn’t have done much more wrong (in the first half). It was a calamity of errors. We looked bad. We played poorly.”
But in the end the improved defense, coupled with an offense that ran 32 offensive snaps in the second half and was highlighted by a 222-yard rushing effort by sophomore running back Noah Porter, put the Blue Devils in the win column for the first time.
“The effort was there,” Hisaw said. “We continued to battle, fight, and scratch. The kids believed in what they were told, believed in each other, and were more sharp.”
Another key to victory was the enthusiasm generated by an enthusiastic partisan crowd, Hisaw said.
“It was nice for the kids to have that,” Hisaw said. “They deserve it and the community deserves a great product on the field. It was nice to see the students and the community come out and support them.”
On the injury front, Wa-HI will take the field Friday without linebacker Troy Aguilar due to a high ankle sprain he suffered two weeks ago at Richland, Hisaw said.
The good news is that Hisaw expects inside linebacker and running back Willie Hayes, who was also sidelined with a high ankle sprain at Richland, to suit up this week.
Hayes’ return means Nick Fuller will resume his duties on the defensive line, Hisaw said.
Both teams possess a fair share of the MCC’s statistical leaders. Porter is fourth in rushing (269 yards) while Hanford’s Malik Slack ranks fifth (208).
The quarterbacks - the Blue Devils’ Zach Zehner and Aaron Enderlin of the Falcons — are third and fourth, respectively, in total offense (576-555). Enderlin is third with 525 passing yards and Zehner is No. 4 with 499 yards through the air.
Wa-Hi’s Darnell Handcox continues to lead Mid-Columbia receivers with 17 receptions. He has gained 181 yard on those catches and has scored twice.
Tyler Cowen of Hanford is fifth in the conference with 11 grabs, but has netted 374 yards and four TDs.
As a team, Wa-Hi ranks fifth in both offense and defense.
Hanford is the league’s fourth-best offense, but ranks at the bottom in defense.
Hisaw noted that the Falcons’ record and defensive standing are misleading considering their first two games came against Chiawana and Kamiakin, who are both 3-0 to start the season.
“They play very hard and have great athletes,” Hisaw said of the Falcons. “They play a 3-4 on defense. They attack you. They have two great corners. They put a lot of guys in the box.
“Their quarterback is mobile,” Hisaw said. “They have kids that can make plays and pose a lot of problems on offense.
“We need to play a full game like the second half last week to be competitive,” Hisaw said. “I believe we can beat them and we will if we play well. It will be a heck of a fight.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.