No longer must the Walla Walla High School football team and its fans brace themselves for Garrett Horner, the longtime Hanford quarterback responsible for what became an annual Falcons highlight show one night each year at the expense of the Blue Devils.

Horner graduated this past spring, leaving the 2019 Falcons without a two-time All-Mid Columbia Conference signal caller and the 2018 MCC Offensive Player of the Year — one who seemed to make particular point of lighting up Wa-Hi’s defensive secondary each time they squared off over the years.

But despite the welcomed departure of Horner (at long last), the Blue Devils suspect Hanford will be no easier when they clash on Friday night at Fran Rish Stadium in an MCC showdown starting at 7 p.m.

Wa-Hi will be going after its second straight win to open this season, continuing the momentum from having already routed Southridge in a 36-17 victory last week at Borleske Stadium.

“Hanford is athletic,” Blue Devils first-year head coach Greg Lupfer said. “They’re good up front, both on the (offensive) line and the (defensive) line. They’ve got some good tailbacks. 

“We expect to get no-huddled, so we’ve got to practice with a fast tempo.”

Wa-Hi players, coaches and fans had come to dread the yearly Hanford game — here, there, anywhere — and a big part of the reason was Horner.

As a sophomore in 2016, Horner threw for 290 yards with three touchdowns on 24-of-40 passing against the Blue Devils. Wa-Hi may have won that night at Fran Rish Stadium, 50-48, but only after managing to thwart a Falcons drive in the closing minutes.

The last two years were not so forgiving for Wa-Hi.

The 2017 matchup at Borleske saw Horner complete 24-of-31 passes for 340 yards and five TDs without an interception as Hanford routed the Blue Devils, 42-6. Horner went on to make All-MCC as a junior.

Little changed last year, though Horner would be named the MCC Offensive Player of the Year. Wa-Hi again hosted their game, only to absorb a 41-6 loss as the Hanford senior QB threw for 253 yards and four TDs on his 17-of-29 night.

Although Horner is finally gone, Hanford is still quite a threat — and the Falcons will be especially tough in defense of their home turf, looking to vent any lingering frustrations from their season-opening 17-13 loss at Kennewick last week.

Starting this season on the road at Lampson Stadium, the Falcons already had a new star quarterback, Easton Wise-Hyde, producing big numbers.

After the first week of play, the Hanford junior leads the MCC in passing yards with the 236 he threw for against Kennewick while completing 11 of 20 attempts. He also tops the league in total offense.

Wa-Hi’s secondary will have its hands full with Jaxon Farrah back from having caught four passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, Caleb Harvey from his two receptions for 50 yards, and Jamouri Harvey from his one for 43 yards.

Wise-Hyde saw plenty of action against Wa-Hi last year at Borleske, replacing Horner midway through the Falcons’ 41-6 win. As sophomore, he was 3-of-10 passing for 36 yards.

Meanwhile, the Hanford backfield can take advantage of a sleeping defensive front line expecting the pass.

Kamari Durmas took only four handoffs at Kennewick, but used them to rush for 52 yards while Dylan McElderry added 32 yards on 10 carries.

“We’ve just got to know who their playmakers are,” Lupfer said. “It’s up to us to line up and do what we do.”

Blue Devils want to stir up more excitement after beginning this season last week with the first Wa-Hi victory at Borleske in almost three years, and Lupfer wants his team to play with even more intensity.

“My belief is to keep us doing things status quo,” Lupfer said. “Ok, we won a game, but now we’ve put that one to bed. And we’ve got to be ready to play just as hard. If anything, I’m going to be harder on the kids this week than I was last. We just won one game. Ok. That’s great for the kids. Now, we’re going to keep working our tails off.”

Hector writes stories about local sports, helps produce the daily section and updates the web site. A lifelong sports nut having grown up in Maryland, he joined the U-B with more than 15 years experience in journalism.