Mason Martin and the Southridge High School football team got out to a fast start on Friday night against visiting Walla Walla, and the Suns managed to stave off a surging Blue Devils squad to preserve a 26-20 win in Mid-Columbia Conference play at Lampson Stadium.
The Suns (3-2, 2-1 MCC) led the Blue Devils (2-3, 1-2) 20-0 at the half, getting two touchdowns from running back Zayid Al-Ghani and one from quarterback Martin. But Walla Walla quarterback Mitch Lesmeister rallied the troops by throwing three touchdown passes in the first 15 minutes of the second half to tie the game.
“Oh yeah, we were definitely a little concerned,” Southridge coach Keith Munson said. “They have a tremendous quarterback, and then when they were rallying, they have a good running back and a great passing game, and we’ve got some problems in our defensive backfield we’ve really gotta fix.”
But on the drive following Lesmeister’s third and final touchdown pass, Martin marched the Suns 63 yards down the field and punched the ball over the goal line from one yard out for the game’s final score. Al-Ghani had a 25-yard rush on the drive that kept the engines running on the Southridge option offense, getting the Suns inside the Blue Devils’ 10-yard line.
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Al-Ghani would lead the team in rushing with 25 carries on 174 yards — more than 100 of which came in the second half — followed closely by Martin, who had 132 yards on his 24 carries. The pair spent almost the entire game slipping tackles at the line of scrimmage, and then dragging defenders down the field to pick up solid chunks of yards.
“Our style of offense is really diverse with the option and the spread game, so if we can pinpoint where we can get a good read with the option, we just stay with that until they stop it,” Munson said. “Then we run it to the other side. It’s a simple game.”
The story was one the Blue Devils had heard before — they entered the game with the league’s worst defense, allowing 418.3 yards and 37.8 points per game. While Friday wasn’t the worst defensive performance by the Blue Devils from a statistical standpoint — allowing 380 yards of total offense — Walla Walla coach Eric Hisaw still felt like his team was getting pushed around by the run-heavy Suns.
“We’re not very tough right now. We’re not very physical,” Hisaw said.
Walla Walla was missing one of its offensive leaders in senior running back Brennan Barberich, who made the game-time decision to sit out after dealing with back issues all week. Lesmeister tried to pick up the slack, and nearly pulled off the come-from-behind win with an inspired effort coming out of halftime. But the Blue Devils struggled to muster any offense outside of the third quarter.
“We played a really nice third quarter,” Hisaw said. “Why we can’t do that for three or four, I have no idea. It’s the same kids, and you know, I’m disappointed for them. They didn’t quit, they kept trying to play hard. We just aren’t playing very well.”
Lesmeister, who was the conference’s second-leading rusher through four weeks, finished the game with 62 yards on eight carries. He also completed 12 of his 25 passes for 142 yards, but threw two interceptions.
Running back Sam Hoe led the Blue Devils in rushing with 79 yards on 20 carries.
Linebacker Gavin Willingham and defensive back Brycen Kelly made the interceptions for Southridge. Defensive back Isaiah Moss picked off Martin in the second quarter.
SR — Zayid Al-Ghani 1 run (Hunter Spiva kick)
SR — Mason Martin 7 run (Spiva kick)
SR — Al-Ghani 3 run (kick blocked)
WW — Mason Knowles 34 pass from Mitchell Lesmeister (kick failed)
WW — Carter Davis 8 pass from Lesmeister (Davis run)
WW —Davis 25 pass from Lesmeister (pass failed)
SR — Martin 1 run (pass failed)
RUSHING — WW, Sam Hoe 20-79; Lesmeister 8-62; team 2-(minus 31). SR, Al-Ghani 25-174; Martin 24-132; Samuel Kori 1-(minus 2); Gavin Willingham 1-(minus 3).
PASSING — WW, Lesmeister 12-25-2-142. SR, Martin 9-11-1-79.
RECEIVING — WW, Davis 5-53; Isaiah Moss 4-47; Knowles 2-30; Hoe 1-12. SR, Brycen Kelly 4-45; Russell Masterson 1-21; Samuel Kori 3-8.