The new era of Walla Walla High School football got off to a resounding start here on Friday night, capturing the first Blue Devil victory at Borleske Stadium in almost three years with a 36-17 smashing of Southridge to open this season.
Oct. 7, 2016 had marked the last time Wa-Hi won at Borleske (routing Pasco, 42-8, that night).
So the Blue Devils fans in attendance on Friday night, perhaps curious about their team under new head coach Greg Lupfer, left with a fresh excitement and perhaps an almost forgotten sense of lingering satisfaction.
“You know what? I challenged the kids on Wednesday,” Lupfer said afterwards. “I found out that we hadn’t won a home game here in three years, and to me, it can’t be like that. Not if we want to get this thing going. So I challenged them about playing hard, starting fast and finishing strong.
“And that’s been our motto since we started camp,” Lupfer said. “Just start fast and finish strong. Our guys came out, and they were hungry. They were excited and ready to play. It was an unbelievable effort by us.”
What about Lupfer, making his long-awaited debut as a head coach after assisting for almost 25 years — mostly at the collegiate level, including stops at Boise State, Portland State, Toledo, Cal Poly and Colorado State?
“You know what? This whole week, I have been so nervous,” Lupfer said. “I actually was talking to (previous Blue Devil head coach Eric) Hisaw, and I said I’m more nervous today than when we went and played Alabama — and that’s SEC schools and Pac-12 schools.
“I was more nervous about this game than I’ve ever been about any other game in my whole coaching career.”
Much of what fans saw here on Friday was new and different, from the head coach to the Blue Devil jerseys. And then there was Wa-Hi sophomore Jakob Humphrey, introducing himself to the Walla Walla community with a captivating performance.
Less than two months after moving here with his family over the summer, Humphrey went out and rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown on only 10 carries.
Humphrey put the Blue Devils ahead of Southridge for good with less four minutes remaining in the third quarter, when he rushed 11 yards to the end zone and kicker Seamus Hall tacked on the extra point for a 15-10 lead.
Hall would end up going 4-for-4.
The Humphrey 6 sparked a wild Wa-Hi run with three more TDs, all unanswered, in the fourth quarter before Southridge managed the last score of the game on its final play.
“You know, I’m telling you, the kid that surprises everybody right now is Jake Humphrey, No. 33,” Lupfer said. “I mean, that guy is special. He’s tough. He’s kind of like the icing on our cake right now.
“You incorporate Josiah Wik and Dylan Ashbeck and Ryan Moore, and now you’ve got some weapons out there that defenses are really going to have to prepare for.”
Wa-Hi balanced its offense with junior quarterback Ryan Martuscelli coming off the bench to throw for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-14 passing.
Martuscelli entered with just over five minutes gone in the second quarter and Southridge up, 3-0, and he proceeded to take the Blue Devils 38 yards to pay dirt on five plays. The drive resulted in a 13-yard scoring pass to Dylan Ashbeck for the first Wa-Hi points of the season.
Ashbeck, who would finish with 43 yards receiving on four catches, then took a direct snap on the 2-point conversion attempt and rushed it in for an 8-3 lead.
Wa-Hi had started sophomore Dash Sirmon under center, and his first pass was a 13-yard completion to Dylan Ashbeck. But his only other completion on a 2-of-5 night was for no gain. His three brief possessions resulted in a lost fumble and then back-to-back punts with 38 yards of total offense.
“You know what? I was pretty nervous when we came out, and they converted that third down, and just started driving the field,” Lupfer said of the first Southridge drive of the game. “We held them to three, which was fine, and then that fumble on the kickoff return and it’s like, oh no. That’s not the way we want to get going.
“But I’ll tell you what. It shows our character,” Lupfer said. “Our guys fought back. We’ve got a really good football team that has great leadership.”
Martuscelli wasted little time getting the Blue Devils on the scoreboard, and he stayed out there the rest of the night.
“It was good,” Lupfer said. “We’re still going to keep that competition going between Dash and Ryan. We know what Dash can do. I think Dash might have been a little bit star-struck today to start off with, which is understandable. He’s only a sophomore. He’s young. But we’re going to keep that competition going. Ryan did a great job when he got in there, and I still believe it’s a toss up who’s going to start at quarterback.”
Martuscelli may have put the Blue Devils on top shortly after he replaced Sirmon, but the dizzying Wa-Hi offense was still to come.
In the meantime, Southridge managed to take another lead midway through the third quarter on a 40-yard scoring pass from quarterback Trenton Slatter to Austin Gideon that put them up 10-8.
That Southridge TD, their only one of the night, was a rare blemish on an otherwise dominating performance by the Wa-Hi defense.
As a team, Southridge would end up with a total of 13 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Wa-Hi had Cole Schmidt and Joe Terry each sacking Slatter, while Dylan Ashbeck intercepted one of his passes.
“We made a change,” Lupfer said. “Coach (Justin) James and the D-staff did a great job. We made a change. We took Jackson Owen, and we put him at defensive end. And then put Logan Ashbeck at linebacker. And then we put Ryan Moore at weak safety, and then we put Jake Humphrey at rover, and our team speed on defense is pretty good. And it proved tonight.”
The second Southridge lead of the game soon disappeared with the ensuing Wa-Hi possession going 70 yards on seven plays, the last being that Humphrey scoring run to make it a 15-10 game.
Southridge then got to about midfield with more than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but a Terry hit jarred the ball loose and he recovered it at the opposing 40 yard line.
Three plays later, Moore — who wound up rushing for 33 yards on 10 carries, and also had another 20 yards on his sole reception — took a handoff at the 26 and ran it to the end zone for a 22-10 lead with about five minutes to go.
“Joe Terry is our most physical football player that we have,” Lupfer said. “He loves the game of football, and he really plays hard. And he’s tough. He’s a tough kid. He’s what you want at linebacker.”
Wa-Hi’s lead soon began to balloon as Southridge had to punt from its own 13 barely a minute later, and the Blue Devils ran only two plays before Martuscelli hit Hunter Polley on an 18-yard scoring pass to make it a 29-10 game.
The Blue Devil defense proceeded to force another Southridge punt from its 24 after three plays, and Wik (five receptions for 44 yards) returned it 45 yards to the end zone for a 36-10 lead with about three minutes left.
Eager to pick up where they left off, as opposed to last year, the Blue Devils look stay consistent and win again this coming Friday night when they play at Hanford with the kickoff at 7 p.m.
A year ago, Wa-Hi started the 2018 season with a 28-0 victory at Southridge — the very first play featured Wik returning the opening kickoff 85 yards to the end zone — but those good times wound up being short lived and sparse, with the Blue Devils mustering only one more win the rest of the year.
Lupfer wants his team to avoid becoming complacent.
“You know, I’m not changing anything we’re doing,” Lupfer said. “I just told the players, hey listen, we’re celebrating for 24 hours — and the coaching staff is going to celebrate for about 12 — and then we’re going on to the next team. It’s a great win, but this is not … you know, we didn’t win the Super Bowl.
“We won a football game, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Lupfer said. “And next week, it’s on to bigger and better things.”
Blue Devils 36, Suns 17
Southridge 3 0 7 7 — 17
Walla Walla 0 8 7 21 — 36
SR — Spaniel 33 field goal.
Wa-Hi — Ashbeck 13 pass from Martuscelli (Ashbeck run).
SR — Gideon 40 pass from Slatter (Spaniel kick).
Wa-Hi — Humphrey 11 run (Hall kick).
Wa-Hi — Moore 26 run (Hall kick).
Wa-Hi — Polley 18 pass from Martuscelli (Hall kick).
Wa-Hi — Wik 45 punt return (Hall kick).
SR — Centeno 11 pass from Slater (Spaniel kick).
RUSHING — SR: Stayrook 14-25, Slatter 10-15, Kuwa 5-6. Wa-Hi: Humphrey 10-117, Moore 10-33, Martuscelli 2-(-8).
PASSING — SR: Slatter 22-38-198-2-1. Wa-Hi: Martuscelli 12-14-141-2-0, Sirmon 2-5-13-0-0.
RECEIVING — SR: Gideon 7-76, Beckwith 3-26, Centeno 2-29, Stayrook 2-19, Stillwell 2-11, Cook-Parker 2-8, Benedict 1-16, Kuwa 1-6, Stevens 1-4, McCullough 1-3. Wa-Hi: Wik 5-44, Ashbeck 4-43, Polley 2-24, Moore 1-20, Terry 1-14, Humphrey 1-9.