RICHLAND — The lead had already changed hands four times when Walla Walla quarterback Ryan Martuscelli ran in a keeper from two yards out to put the Blue Devils up, 25-21, on the heels of a 15-play, 63-yard marathon drive with 9:22 left in Friday night’s Mid-Columbia Conference game against Hanford here at Fran Rish Stadium.
Wa-Hi then gave itself a chance to extend that lead — and get a little closer toward fulfilling efforts at a 2-0 start to this season — sending its offense back onto the field only four plays later at the Hanford 44-yard line after the Blue Devils had forced an incomplete pass on a risky Falcons bid with about eight minutes still remaining.
But the third Blue Devil snap resulted in an untimely turnover as the Falcon defensive line snatched a bobbled pass reception at the Wa-Hi 42, opening the door for what proved to be a decisive Hanford touchdown with 6:37 remaining.
Hanford held on the rest of the way, and the Blue Devils ended up with a 28-25 loss.
“I am proud of our kids,” Blue Devils coach Greg Lupfer said. “I love our players and these kids. They battled their tails off, and they never quit. And I appreciate that 100 percent.
“We played hard,” he said. “I hate losing, the players hate losing. There’s tears in their eyes. It’s a tough thing to deal with. But just like we’ve got to learn how to take winning, we’ve got to learn how to take losing and try to make a positive out of it and learn from every situation that we’re always put in.”
If you crave excitement, you would have loved the Walla Walla-Hanford game — especially considering the last two years, with Falcons outscoring Blue Devils a combined 83-12.
Their 2019 matchup, instead, had six lead changes with both the Blue Devils (1-1 record) and the Falcons making big plays in pivotal situations, and they captivated your attention so much so that not until it was all over did everyone realize they happened to be under a full moon on Friday the 13th.
Jakob Humphrey put together another dominating performance out of the Wa-Hi backfield with his second straight 100-yard game, this time rushing for that number exactly on 23 carries, while also catching three passes for 60 yards.
The sophomore Blue Devil, who transferred from Twin Falls, Idaho, now has averaged 6.5 yards per carry with 217 total on 33 of them.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils balanced their offense against Hanford with Martuscelli and Dash Sirmon alternating as quarterback.
Martuscelli threw for 154 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-18 passing.
Sirmon was 5-of-13 for 31 yards, and also made an eight-yard TD run that capped his own long scoring drive in the first half — a week after his struggles resulted in an early exit from the season opening win over Southridge.
“He went out and played three quarters of JV football on Monday,” Lupfer said. “For him, it’s just getting game experience. He keeps on working hard. He gets that game experience, and he’s just going to keep getting better and better as the time goes.”
Wa-Hi looks to continue taking advantage of having options at quarterback.
“Like I said in the beginning, we’re going to try to get both of them in the game,” Lupfer said. “They’re both competitive, they both work their tails off, and they both deserve to play.”
The Blue Devils look to get back in the win column this coming Friday, but though they will have home field advantage, they must go up against perennial MCC powerhouse Chiawana starting at 7 p.m.
The Riverhawks have outscored their opponents this year a combined 75-7, crushing both Richland (the state champ only two years ago) and the same Kennewick team that defeated Hanford last week.
But the Blue Devils refuse to back down, and instead aim to continue building off their solid performance here.
“We’ll put this to bed, and we’ll get it graded tomorrow,” Lupfer said. “And then we’ll put it to bed tomorrow, and then we’ll get on to Chiawana.
“We’re going to come out,” he said. “We’re not going to change what we do. We’re going to work our butts off, and try to prepare to win a football game.”
Wa-Hi came so close to winning here with a strong all-around effort.
The game’s first snap from scrimmage saw Humphrey sack Falcon quarterback Easton Wise-Hyde for a loss of five yards, and only two plays later, the Blue Devil defense forced a punt.
A Wa-Hi fumble only 10 yards shy of the goal line on their ensuing offensive gave the ball back to Hanford, but prepared for an uptempo Falcon attack, the Blue Devil defense came up with a fantastic stand.
Hanford went 87 yards on 10 plays until the Blue Devils stopped Falcon running back Dylan McElderry short on a fourth-and-3 from the Wa-Hi 3.
Martuscelli then led the Blue Devils on a nine-play, 92-yard drive that ended less than a minute into the second quarter with kicker Seamus Hall converting a 22-yard field goal to put them up 3-0.
The drive might have gone nowhere if not for a 35-yard completion from Martuscelli to Dylan Ashbeck on third-and-10 from that Blue Devil 3.
Now ahead early in the second quarter, the Blue Devils would force Hanford to punt on another three-and-out to begin second Wa-Hi scoring drive from its own 20.
This time Sirmon came off the bench to eat more than six minutes off the clock on 17 plays over 80 yards with the sophomore QB running in a keeper from eight out.
Dylan Ashbeck then passed to Ryan Moore on a 2-point conversion to give Wa-Hi an 11-0 lead four minutes before halftime.
Those four minutes were wild as the Hanford offense at last kicked into high gear.
The first play from scrimmage saw Wise-Hyde find Caleb Harvey behind the Wa-Hi defensive secondary for 61 yards and their first score of the game to get them within 11-6.
But the Falcons were far from done.
The Blue Devils only punted a little more than a minute later, and a 27-yard return by the elusive Gabe Martinez put the Falcons at their own 47, setting up an eventual 30-yard scoring pass from Wise-Hyde to Jaxon Farrah.
Wise-Hyde ran in the conversion for a 14-11 Hanford lead with 1:29 to go.
“Their quarterback was better than we thought, and (Martinez) was better than we thought,” Lupfer said. “Again, I only had one game film on them — and he didn’t do a ton last week. We probably would have had a different game plan, you know, if I would have known how effective that guy was. He’s a really good football player.”
Hanford may have taken the lead, but the first half was not done yet.
After the Blue Devils had gone three-and-out on their next possession, giving Hanford another shot from its own 25 with 48 seconds left, Wa-Hi defensive lineman Omar Cruz soon intercepted a Wise-Hyde pass and returned it to the 17.
Three plays later, down to just 26 seconds, Martuscelli and Josiah Wik connected on a seven-yard TD pass for an 18-14 Wa-Hi lead.
The Blue Devils tried to stay ahead in the second half, but after a Wa-Hi punt less than three minutes in, Wise-Hyde found Harvey in the end zone from 20 yards out for a 21-18 lead with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Martuscelli led Wa-Hi on another long drive, this one eating up more than seven minutes before the Blue Devils scored for their last lead at 25-21 early in the fourth quarter, but it all seemed to unravel with the devastating interception.
“We wore out at the end,” Lupfer said. “I told the guys, I’m like, hey listen, are you seeing their team rotating guys in and out? ‘Yeah, Coach.’ Do we rotate guys in and out? ‘No, Coach.’ We don’t have the depth.
“After a while, when a kid plays 120 plays, they’re going to wear out.
“Our offense controlled the ball really well,” Lupfer said. “But we’ve got to get it in the end zone. We’ve got to make sure we’re always getting it in that end zone, we’re scoring points. And we can’t turn it over. That’s the name of the ballgame.
“We talk about it everyday,” he said. “We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to create takeaways. They took the ball away from us, and we didn’t take the ball away from them.”
Falcons 28, Blue Devils 25
WW — Hall 22 field goal.
WW — Sirmon 8 run (Moore pass from Ashbeck).
Han — Harvey 61 pass from Wise-Hyde (kick missed).
Han — Farrah 30 pass from Wise-Hyde (Wise-Hyde run).
WW — Wik 7 pass from Martuscelli (Hall kick).
Han — Harvey 20 pass from Wise-Hyde (Uvalle kick).
WW — Martuscelli 2 run (Hall kick).
Han — McElderry 6 run (Uvalle kick).
RUSHING — WW: Humphrey 23-100, Sirmon 3-5, Moore 2-4, Wik 1-3, Martuscelli 7-(-4). HAN: McElderry 16-103, Wise-Hyde 5-46, Cerna 1-8, Durmas 1-3, Martinez 1-3.
PASSING — WW: Martuscelli 11-18-142-1-1, Sirmon 5-13-31-0-0. HAN: Wise-Hyde 13-25-209-3-1.
RECEIVING — WW: Wik 7-36, Humphrey 3-60, Ashbeck 3-54, Polley 3-23. HAN: Farrah 5-77, Harvey 3-80, Martinez 3-32, McElderry 2-20.