Touchdown tandem has Bombers flying high

Craig Craker, Herald staff writerOctober 24, 2013 

Richland duo clicking

Richland quarterback Zach Whitby, right, and receiver Payton Radcliff have been in synch this year on their passing game.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Zach Whitby has started nearly every game of his high school career. Payton Radliff on the other hand is playing football for the first time since eighth grade.

The two have taken different paths to reach this point of their senior season, but together they have formed one of the most dangerous offensive combinations in the Mid-Columbia Conference.

“It’s having the deep threat,” Whitby said of why he has had so much success this season. “The past couple of years, I haven’t had that deep threat, but with Payton, Gibby (McGeorge) and (Garrett) March getting downfield — you can go deep or get little short routes underneath.”

In their last three games, the duo has put up some eye-popping numbers. Whitby is 56-for-88 for 872 yards, with 10 touchdowns and one interception. Radliff, meanwhile, has 12 receptions for 319 yards and seven touchdowns.

All three games have been victories, putting the Bombers in a position where they control their own destiny for the playoffs. Richland hosts Hanford at 7 p.m. today at Fran Rish Stadium. A win, combined with a Walla Walla loss, clinches a playoff spot.

“Zach has just been trusting me to catch the ball and I’ve been trusting myself to make plays for the team,” Radliff said of his recent strong play.

The three-game stretch is even more impressive considering what happened before it.

In Week 3, Richland was walloped 42-7 by Chiawana. In that game, Whitby was 12-of-20 for 132 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Radliff was held in check, catching just one pass for 11 yards.

“It was chaos,” Whitby said. “Chiawana is a good team, and they were ready right off the bat, while we were still kind of getting our offense.”

The next week, Whitby sat out with a sore shoulder. The coaching staff didn’t want to risk their star in a nonleague game against Lewiston, Idaho. The Bombers bounced back with a 50-7 win behind the strong play of Taylor O’Toole.

But this is Whitby’s team.

He is a four-year varsity starter — three at Richland High and one at Pasco High — and he has earned the chance to lead the Bombers to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

“He has been good. He understands our system. He knows where guys are supposed to be,” Richland coach Mike Neidhold said. “Zach is real good at looking for the No. 1 receiver and if he’s not here, then the No. 2 guy and if he’s not there, then the No. 3. It’s been fun to watch as a coach. To see him mature in our offense.”

On the other side of the coin, Radliff hasn’t played football since eighth grade. He has starred for the boys basketball team, reaching the state tournament last season. He also went to state track in the long jump. But he had never played football for the Bombers.

“I always saw Coach Neids in the hallway and he was always egging me on to play,” Radliff said. “And all my friends were egging me on to play. I didn’t want to regret it.

“It’s been fun. It is fun getting out and playing under the lights and all the emotion. It’s awesome.”

Now, the pair is hoping to continue their strong play right into the postseason.

“I think we are getting to the playoffs,” Whitby said. “Our plan is to beat Ferris (in a crossover game). We haven’t been to the playoffs in awhile at Richland.”

If Whitby and Radliff keep putting up video game numbers, then there is a strong chance the Bombers will do just that.

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