While most of the Mid-Columbia Conference football world was concentrating on the Richland-Chiawana showdown in Pasco, the Southridge Suns quietly went about their business Friday night with a 31-21 victory over the host Kennewick Lions.
And with that victory comes a postseason berth for a Southridge team that was forced to a short learning curve this year.
The Suns (5-3, 4-2 MCC) will play Kamiakin next Thursday in the final regular-season game. The winner of that contest gets the No. 1 district 3A seed and will host a first-round regional game. The loser will play the Greater Spokane League’s No. 2 team on Tuesday, Nov. 1, with the winner of that game playing a regional contest the following Saturday at the KingCo No. 1 team.
Southridge coach Keith Munson didn’t want his team thinking about their game against the Lions as a playoff-type contest.
“I didn’t want them to concern themselves with that,” said Munson. “I wanted them to think of this as a rivalry game that they wanted to win.”
But Suns running back Zayid Al-Ghani said he and his teammates considered this a playoff game.
“Every game right now is a big game,” said Al-Ghani, who rushed for 149 yards on 33 carries. “What we do is practice day-by-day, go over film day-by-day.”
It’s a process preached from Day One by Munson, who came in from New Mexico as the new Southridge coach in May — late by high school standards.
“Coach came in with energy,” said Al-Ghani. “He came in with rules, and we followed them.”
Suns quarterback Mason Martin agreed.
“We had that determination factor,” said Martin. “We were ready to learn every play.”
Martin’s football education looked complete after the Suns spotted Kennewick a 14-0 lead.
The Lions had jumped out to a that lead on their first two offensive series, as Ronny Loomis scored on an 18-yard run, and then quarterback AJ Templeton rushed in from 48 yards.
“They continued to compete,” Kennewick coach Bill Templeton said of his Lions, who were still in the game until the final minute. “I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”
But Martin led Southridge in the second quarter, connecting twice with Gavin Willingham on TD passes of 5 and 24 yards to knot the game at 14-14 at halftime.
“We didn’t panic,” said Martin, who finished with 129 yards passing and 50 yards rushing. “We just really snapped out of it.”
The Lions re-took the lead, 21-14, when AJ Templeton hit Isaiah Thornton on a 3-yard TD pass early in the third quarter.
But the Southridge defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way, even stopping the Lions on a 4th-and-1 just 15 yards from the end zone.
“They made a nice fourth-down stand there,” said Bill Templeton. “It shows you football is a game of inches.”
And Martin got hot in the fourth quarter, connecting on two more TD passes — both to Brycen Kelly — of 59 and 19 yards. The latter score gave the Suns the lead for good with 3:58 to play. And that gave Martin four touchdown passes on the night.
“Our play-action worked well tonight,” said Munson.
Kicker Hunter Spiva added a 44-yard field goal for the final score.
Defensively, lineman Eric Stayrook led Southridge with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Linebacker Gavin Willingham added eight tackles, while linebacker Jordan Walter had five tackles.
The Lions were led by linebacker Andrew Fridley, who had 11 tackles (one for loss), and linebacker Emilio Ramos with six tackles and a sack.
The Lions fall to 1-5 MCC, 2-6 overall, and play at Pasco next Friday.
K – Ronny Loomis 18 run (Emilio Ramos kick)
K – AJ Templeton 48 run (Ramos kick)
S – Gavin Willingham 5 pass from Mason Martin (Hunter Spiva kick)
S – Willingham 24 pass from Martin (Spiva kick)
K – Isaiah Thornton 3 pass from Templeton (Ramos kick)
S – Brycen Kelly 59 pass from Martin (Spiva kick)
S – Kelly 19 pass from Martin (Spiva kick)
S – FG 44 Spiva
RUSHING: South, Zayid Al-Ghani 33-149, Martin 8-50. Kenn, Templeton 21-118, Loomis 18-102, Keyshawn Owens 2-20, Jacob Schuldheisz 1-minus 4.
PASSING: South, Martin 10-15-0-129. Kenn, Templeton 4-15-0-65.
RECEIVING: South, Kelly 3-76, Willingham 2-29, Russell Masterson 3-18, Samuel Kori 2-6. Kenn, Tucker Newman 1-49, Loomis 1-8, Austin Albertin 1-5, Thornton 1-3.
FIRST DOWNS – South 14, Kenn 13. PENALTIES-YARDS – South 2-12, Kenn 5-32. FUMBLES-LOST – South 0-0, Kenn 4-0.