There are very few times that a Steve Graff-coached team has ever passed the football more than it has run it in a game.
Thursday night was one of those exceptions, though, as Graff’s Chiawana team went to the air against host Kamiakin.
It worked, as the Riverhawks stunned the Braves in a 42-0 Mid-Columbia Conference victory at Lampson Stadium.
The key was taking it to the air from the get-go.
“If you’re going to play us man-to-man coverage instead of zone, and you’re going to bring six guys, then we’re going to throw the ball,” said Graff, referring to Kamiakin’s defensive scheme.
So to counter the aggressive Kamiakin blitzing, Chiawana would get rid of the ball fast to receivers on slant patterns or outs.
But it wasn’t Chiawana quarterback Preston Vine or backup JP Zamora who broke the scoreless tie. No, it was receiver Bennie Alferness. More to the point, it was his arm.
On the Riverhawks’ second possession of the game, Alferness went in motion, took the handoff from Vine in what looked like a fly sweep. But Alferness stopped and fired a long bullet to a streaking Dion Lee, who scored on the 54-yard play.
“Bennie did a great job of stepping up and getting the throw off,” said Graff. “We’ve had that play in our book all year. But we didn’t use it until tonight.”
Lee’s eyes lit up when he lined up on the play.
“We came out, and they only had one safety out high,” he said.
It put Kamiakin on its heels from that point on.
“We just killed ourselves all night,” said Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin. “Chiawana played a great game. We didn’t help ourselves at all. But they made us not play well.”
The Riverhawks defense did a number on the Braves, who failed to get a first down on their first three series. By the time they got one on Series No. 4, it was already 20-0 Chiawana.
The Riverhawks – who would score on five straight possessions – added an AJ Vongphachanh 4-yard TD run (keyed by a 40-yard Gabe Schilz romp down to the 8), and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Lee when Schilz, at the end of a 14-yard run, lost control of the ball diving for the goal line.
From there, Vine took control with three consecutive TD passes: a 45-yard thing of beauty to Schilz, who broke two tackles at the 15 and waltzed in; and a 54-yarder and 8-yarder to Kobe Young.
The last score, with 6:30 to play in the third quarter, activated the running clock.
“We just knew they were coming on every play,” said Vine, who finished with 204 yards passing. “They beat Hanford. We knew they could fly to the ball. They have athletes all around.”
But it was Chiawana’s athletes who played well Thursday. Graff especially liked his interior line play.
“Our guys played good up front on both offense and defense,” said Graff. “We executed well on both sides of the ball.”
Indeed. Young had eight catches for 89 yards. Vongphachanh added 3 tackles, 2 quarterback sacks, a hurry and a fumble recovery to go with his TD run.
But it was Schilz who had the monster game. He rushed for 108 yards on 11 carries, caught the 45-yard TD pass, and had an interception on defense.
Chiawana has Pasco next Friday at Edgar Brown and is guaranteed a home 4A regional playoff game Nov. 2.
Despite the loss, Kamiakin still has a shot at the 3A regional playoffs. The Braves will have to win at Hermiston next Friday.
“But we’ve got to play better than this,” said Biglin.
NOTES: Besides Schilz’s interception, Chiawana got two more picks off of Kamiakin QB Lucas Castilleja. Lee had one, and Marvell Cooks had the other at the 5 in the first half when the Braves were knocking at the door. … DB Kelen Rutz led Kamiakin defensively with 6 tackles and two pass breakups, while DB Blake Fabbri added 6 tackles. … Kamiakin was penalized just one time for 5 yards. Chiawana picked up 10 flags for 84 yards.