RICHLAND — On a night when its offense faltered and its special teams had multiple miscues, Wa-Hi rode a colossal effort by its defense to a 13-7 victory over Hanford in Mid-Columbia Conference football action on Friday night at Fran Rish Stadium.
The Blue Devils’ offense gained just 188 yards and turned the ball over twice, giving up one fumble on four dropped balls and an interception. And on special teams the Blue Devils missed field goals from 23, 28 and 39 yards and an extra point, while struggling in the punting game with a pair of boots that traveled just 16 and 22 yards.
But the Blue Devils (1-1 MCC, 2-2 overall) yielded just 35 yards after halftime and collected eight turnovers from a Falcons’ squad that passed out the gifts — four fumbles and an equal number of interceptions — like a department store Santa Claus.
“It was a great defensive effort,” Wa-Hi coach Eric Hisaw said. “I am so proud of the defense. It’s as good an effort as I’ve been around. The kids displayed an unbelievable amount of passion and confidence. We played lights out on defense.
“As well as we played on defense, we played equally bad on offense,” he said. “We had chances to make plays, and we didn’t. Give credit to Hanford’s defense.”
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Wa-Hi center Nick Fuller said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We have room for a lot of improvement.”
The Hanford offense, which Wa-Hi manhandled over the final three-and-a-half quarters, displayed a balanced attack on the game’s initial series.
Starting from their own 7-yard line, the Falcons soared 93 yards on 14 snaps while running just over seven minutes off the clock. Quarterback Aaron Enderlin hit wide receiver Tyler Cowen with a 20-yard touchdown pass at the 4:52 mark.
Daymien Marks’ PAT kick gave Hanford a 7-0 lead.
Enderlin completed all five of his passes on the drive. The tosses netted 56 yards.
On the Blue Devils’ second possession, quarterback Zach Zehner connected with wide receiver Darnell Handcox on a 39-yard pass play that gave Wa-Hi a first-and-goal on the Falcons’ 6.
But the first of the three missed field-goal tries would occur four plays later.
Handcox got the Blue Devils on the board on the first play of the second quarter when he picked off an Enderlin pass and raced down the right sideline for a 41-yard touchdown.
“That pick-six was huge,” Hisaw said.
A missed extra point kept the score at 7-6 with 11:51 on the clock.
Wa-Hi tallied the final touchdown of the game in the closing seconds of period two. The Blue Devils marched 42 yards in six plays and scored with eight seconds left in the quarter.
Running back Stuart Gillin factored into the final two snaps of the possession. He caught a six-yard pass from Zehner to set Wa-Hi up with a first-and-goal at the Hanford 2 and, on the next play from scrimmage, sprinted around left end for the score.
“It was one we had to get,” Gillin said. “Coach (Pat) Graham gave me the look and said to get in the end zone.”
Ethan Gardner added the PAT to give Wa-Hi a 13-7 lead going into halftime.
The touchdown was an encouraging end to a frustrating second quarter for the Blue Devils, whose previous possessions in the period ended with two punts, an interception and a fumble.
Hanford was guilty of two lost fumbles, two interceptions and a muffed punt in the second period.
Offensive futility dogged both teams in the second half. Wa-Hi drove from its 32 to the Hanford 10 at the outset of the third quarter, but a missed field goal was the end result.
The Blue Devils were unable to cash in on their next two series despite starting the first at the Hanford 40 and the second on the Falcons’ 45.
Wa-Hi’s next three offensive opportunities, all in the fourth quarter, concluded with a punt, a turnover on downs inside the Hanford 10, and an unsuccessful field goal try with 1:58 left.
Hanford was far less prosperous. On its six possessions after halftime, the Falcons advanced the ball no further than the Wa-Hi 44.
The Blue Devils allowed just 68 yards on the ground and 137 through the air. Gillin was key at the linebacker spot and Fuller shined at defensive end.
“It was a team effort,” Gillin said. “It’s the best defensive effort I’ve been a part of. We didn’t have to be told from the sideline to rally to the ball. It just happened.”
“We stepped up defensively,” Fuller said. “We were confident on defense. We know we can stop the run.”
Wa-Hi hosts Kennewick this Friday at 7 p.m.
Wa-Hi 13, Hanford 7
Wa-Hi 0 13 0 0 — 13
Hanford 7 0 0 0 — 7
Hanford — Cowen 20 pass from Enderlin (Marks kick).
Wa-Hi — Handcox 41 interception return (kick failed).
Wa-Hi — Gillin 2 run (Gardner kick).
First downs 11 14
Rushes/yards 40-86 35-68
Passing yards 102 137
Passes (att-comp-int) 11-6-1 26-11-4
Punts 5-34 3-26.7
Fumbles-lost 4-1 5-4
Penalties-yards 8-78 7-58
RUSHING — Wa-Hi: Zehner 9-42, Porter 13-29, Gillin 8-28-1, Hayes 7-8, Team 3-(-21); Hanford: Bishop 9-39, Slack 14-24, Enderlin 6-8, Davis 4-4, Anderson 2-(-7).
PASSING — Wa-Hi: Zehner 10-18-1, 102 yards, 0 TDs; Hanford: Enderlin 11-26-4, 125 yards, 1 TD, Anderson 1-2-0, 12 yards, 0 TDs.
RECEIVING — Wa-Hi: Handcox 3-68, Huffman 3-10, Gillin 2-13, Magnaghi 1-8, Gomez 1-3; Hanford: Reyes 5-29, Cowen 4-70-1, Albertson 2-26, Craig 1-12.