KENNEWICK, Wash. — Zack Gaston's job as Hanford's starting tight end mostly consists of sealing the end or getting downfield on a linebacker to help pave the way for uber back Jalen DeVine.
Like, not nine out of 10 times, but 99 out of 100.
So when he found himself alone in the middle of the Southridge pass defense Thursday night, the ball in his hands and about 20 yards of real estate between him and the end zone, he was not about to let the scoring chance pass him up.
"I was not going to go down until I got to the end zone," he said, beaming after the Falcons' 30-14 win over the Suns at Lampson Stadium.
Gaston made good on the 29-yard touchdown hookup with quarterback Austin Forsyth, who also hit Jake Oram for an 82-yard score late in the first half as the Hanford passing game -- always overshadowed by the ground attack -- got the Falcons off to a strong start in the first half.
In the second, it was time for the Hanford defense to lower the boom on the Suns, led by a defensive line licking its chops as Southridge was forced to play catch-up and air it out.
"When the defensive line gets going, it doesn't stop," said tackle Cody Kowalski, who had 21/2 of the Falcons' seven sacks.
That defensive line included plays from Kowalski, Gaston, Joe Douglas, Jeff Weyand, DJ Stephenson and Will Ramos, many of whom also led the way on the offensive line as well.
Despite winning for the sixth time in seven games, Hanford (7-2, 5-2 Mid-Columbia) needs some help to get into the playoffs in the form of a Kamiakin victory over Kennewick tonight at Lampson Stadium.
A Kennewick win would leave the Falcons in a three-way tie for first place but out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
For the Suns (5-4, 4-3), the loss ended their hopes of playing in next week's regional games between the Mid-Col and Greater Spokane League.
There was no question they were up to the task of going toe-to-toe with the most physical team in the league. Kadin Diaz pin-balled his way to 91 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Conner Grigg threw for 210 yards despite being under constant pressure, and receiver Brenden Kelly pulled in six balls for 130 yards.
The defense kept the game close in the second half, led by big tackle Trey Tutt with a sack and two more tackles for loss.
But turnovers killed the Suns -- lost fumbles on their first two drives that helped Hanford get out to a 23-0 lead, and then two interceptions in the second half as they were forced to go almost exclusively to the air.
The game was anticipated to be a battle of top-notch running games as well as defenses that tend to eat up ball carriers.
DeVine ran for 170 yards, including scores of 1 and 60 yards, and fullback Austin Taylor added 111 yards on nine carries as the Falcons rolled up 294 on the ground and 423 total.
Hanford set the tone on the opening drive, an 80-yard, 13-play drive that took up half the first quarter, overcame two holding penalties and culminated in Gaston's TD catch.
Twice in the first half Southridge drove into the Falcons' side of the field only to fumble the chance away, leading to 10 more Hanford points.
The Falcons then hit their biggest play on third-and-8 at their own 18. The Suns blitzed, and Hanford's big offensive line picked it up, giving Forsyth time in the pocket and Oram one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Forsyth's heave cleared a leaping defensive back near midfield, and Oram skipped away from a lunging tackler and cruised the rest of the way.
Southridge came right back, with Kelly breaking a pair of tackles before finally getting spun down at the Hanford 15 on a 42-yard pickup that led to Grigg's 4-yard score.
But Hanford's defense stood up big the rest of the way, adding five more tackles for loss to go with all those sacks, plus the picks by Ben Kelly and Taylor.
"We wanted to show them statistics aren't everything," Kowalski said. "They're the No. 1-ranked defense, but I think we showed them up on defense, showed them who's best on the defensive line."
Hanford 13 10 0 7 -- 30
Southridge 0 7 0 7 -- 14
H--Zack Gaston 29 pass from Austin Forsyth (kick fail)
H--Jalen DeVine 1 run (Will Bishop kick)
H--FG Bishop 20
H--Jake Oram 82 pass from Forsyth (Bishop kick)
S--Conner Grigg 4 run (Conner Mertens kick)
H--DeVine 60 run (Bishop kick)
S--Kadin Diaz 2 run (Nate Newbry kick)
RUSHING--H, DeVine 29-170, Austin Taylor 9-111, Bishop 2-7, Forsyth 3-6. S, Diaz 22-91, Grigg 10-(minus 33).
PASSING--H, Forsyth 4-5-0--129. S, Grigg 12-29-2--210.
RECEIVING--H, Oram 2-86, Gaston 2-43. S, Branden Kelly 6-130, Masceo Ealy-Thomas 4-17, Bryce Overholt 1-40, Diaz 1-23.
FIRST DOWNS--H 14, S 14. FUMBLES-LOST--H 2-2, S 3-2. PENALTIES-YARDS--H 12-108, S 7-55.