The Richland Bombers forced six turnovers and held off a furious second half comeback from the Chiawana Riverhawks to preserve a 21-14 victory Friday night at Edgar Brown Stadium to clinch the Mid-Columbia Conference football championship.
Tied at 14 with 3:41 to play, the No. 2 Bombers (8-0, 6-0 MCC) got the ball on their own 5-yard line after forcing the No. 4 Riverhawks (7-1, 5-1) to go three-and-out. A 50-yard completion from quarterback Paxton Stevens to wide out Josh Mendoza — on a pass that traveled about 60 yards in the air — highlighted Richland’s game-winning, 95-yard touchdown drive that ended with Parker McCary scoring on a 9-yard dash, his second touchdown of the game.
“I just saw his defender get beat, so I blinked their safety right and came back to Josh, and just launched that thing up there,” Stevens said. “And he just went up there and got it for me. Hell of a catch by Josh.”
After losing five fumbles in the first half — three by running back Andrew Vargas — and failing to put a point on the board, Chiawana finally looked like it was taking control of the game toward the end of the third quarter. Vargas and quarterback Troy Simpkins each scored a rushing touchdown to tie the game, and Hayden Carrasco recovered a fumble by Stevens.
But the Bombers would absorb every blow the Riverhawks could throw at them.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Chiawana, for fighting,” Richland coach Mike Neidhold said. “They gave us a ton of shots to the mouth, and maybe a couple to the gut too.”
Epitomizing that bend-but-don’t break mindset for Richland was Vargas’ final stat line, as the senior back broke loose on a couple of carries, but finished with only 170 yards on his 31 touches.
“We had to find a way to slow that guy (Vargas) down, and all we did was slow him down. We didn’t stop him,” Neidhold said. “You can’t stop Andrew Vargas; he’s just a really, really good player. He’s the best running back we’ve seen all year.”
Dontae Powell, the Bombers 6-foot-5, 300 pound senior left tackle, played almost the entire game on the defensive line — Neidhold said he usually only plays defense in goal line situations — and the Richland secondary did an excellent job of tackling Vargas in the open field behind him. Both of these efforts to slow down Vargas, in addition to the six turnovers, kept Chiawana from maintaining offensive rhythm.
“We emphasized tackling all week in practice — eyes on the thighs, wrap and squeeze, like I said earlier,” said linebacker Victor Strasser, who recovered two fumbles. “We’ve gotta drive for five, and that’s what we did.”
McCary also scored on a 1-yard run on the opening drive of the second half after Chiawana fumbled the kickoff to start the third quarter. Richland’s senior running back Ben Stanfield opened the scoring in the second quarter with a 6-yard scamper to cap off a first half where he had 65 yards on nine carries. Stanfield appeared to sustain an injury in the fourth quarter that kept him sidelined for the remainder of the game.
Stevens didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but also didn’t throw an interception as he racked up 171 passing yards and guided a Richland offense that only turned it over once. The Riverhawks bottled up Stevens’ favorite target and the the MCC’s leading receiver Alex Chapman, who had just one grab for three yards.
Both Richland and Chiawana were already guaranteed spots in the MCC-Greater Spokane League crossover entering the week. Richland will host the GSL’s No. 2 team in two weeks and Chiawana will go on the road to face the No. 1 team. Central Valley and Gonzaga Prep were both 3-0 in league play heading into Week 8 and play each other in their regular season finales.
With an overtime win over Kamiakin in Week 6 and another thrilling win over Chiawana on Friday, the Bombers are feeling ready for whatever the playoffs can throw at them.
“We’re ready. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and know we’re not going to look to far ahead,” Stevens said. “We’re gonna play like Bombers.”
R — Ben Stanfield 6 run (Adam Weissenfels kick)
R — Parker McCary 1 run (Weissenfels kick)
C — Andrew Vargas 20 run (Ryan Lowry kick)
C — Troy Simpkins 1 run (Lowry kick)
R — McCary 9 run (Weissenfels kick)
RUSHING — R, Stanfield 12-73; McCary 22-68; Paxton Stevens 2-(-6). C, Vargas 31-170; Troy Simpkins 6-3; Trent Simpkins 1-2; team 2-(-25)
PASSING — R, Stevens 14-31-0-171. C, Troy Simpkins 6-12-1-77; Trent Simpkins 0-1.
RECEIVING — R, Josh Mendoza 8-107; Stanfield 1-37; Weissenfels 3-20; Gaven Brasker 1-4; Alex Chapman 1-3.