WALLA WALLA — With fewer than 20 minutes left until kickoff Friday, the Walla Walla High School pep band marched into Borleske Stadium and inadvertently blocked Kennewick running back Dwight Norwood’s path as he and some teammates attempted to jog to the locker room.
The forward progress of the Lions’ bell cow rusher would remain “frustrated by Blue Devil” for the duration of the evening. Walla Walla neutralized Norwood by keeping Kennewick’s offense stuck in third-and-unmanageable all night, and unleashed its own dormant rushing attack after halftime to cruise to a 34-14 victory in the Mid-Columbia Conference football opener for both teams.
“We flushed those last two weeks,” said Wa-Hi senior Mitchell Huffman, who caught two touchdown passes from Trever Coronado in the first half. “This is when the real season begins.”
In posting its first win of the season, Walla Walla (1-2, 1-0 MCC) rediscovered the power running game that helped produce a winning season in 2013. Coronado was 9-of-16 passing for 129 yards in the first half but attempted just five passes after recess. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils — after gaining 14 rushing yards as an afterthought over the first two quarters — erupted for 212 in the second half.
“We haven’t been running the ball well,” Huffman said. “We wanted to set the tone.”
The tone — somewhere between “jet engine” and “death metal” — was struck on Wa-Hi’s opening second-half possession. The Blue Devils ran the ball on six of seven plays during that series, punctuated by Noah Porter’s weaving, slashing, 51-yard touchdown run for a 20-7 lead.
Porter added a 38-yard scoring run later and finished with 133 yards rushing — 118 in the second half.
“Coach (Eric Hisaw) said we were really going to run the ball tonight,” Porter said. “We played with a lot more effort this game, a lot more intensity. We had some mistakes, but ultimately, we kept our heads in it.”
Despite owning a 14-7 lead at recess, Walla Walla probably could built a more comfortable halftime cushion had it capitalized on excellent early field position. The Blue Devils scored just once on their first four possessions despite starting drives at their own 48, then the Lions’ 41, 23 and 44. Wa-Hi took advantage of its shortest field when Coronado found Huffman on a quick slant in the middle of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
Norwood’s two-yard touchdown run midway through the second tied the game, but the Blue Devils answered with a seven-play, 67-yard scoring drive capped by Coronado’s 35-yard touchdown catch down the home sideline after a Kennewick defensive back slipped and fell in coverage.
Norwood wasn’t shut down by any means. The 6-foot-1 senior, who came into the contest with 271 yards rushing on 38 carries, had 110 yards rushing, two rushing touchdowns and 233 all-purpose yards. But Norwood saw limited touches in high-leverage situations: Kennewick (1-2, 0-1) faced third down 11 times on Friday, with an average down-and-distance of third-and-12.
“We just wanted to shut down their entire offense,” said Huffman. “Our goal was to hold them to two scores or less. We knew if we shut down 28 (Norwood) and got them in third-and-long, we knew they can’t throw.”
Kennewick quarterback Matthew Driver completed 11 of 20 passes for 84 yards.