As far as regular-season high school football games go, the hype for last year’s clash between Kamiakin and Chiawana high schools couldn’t have been much bigger.
Kamiakin rolled into the Week 3 matchup having scored a combined 85 points and pitching back-to-back shutouts against Eastmont and Lewis & Clark; Chiawana posted similar — though not quite as dominant — wins against Moses Lake and West Valley (Yakima).
But the Riverhawks showed up to Edgar Brown Stadium more energized — and Kamiakin might have gotten a bit complacent — to roll up a convincing 35-13 win over the visitors.
“Last year, they physically manhandled us and kicked our butts,” coach Scott Biglin said of the Kamiakin team that allowed Chiawana running back Andrew Vargas to pick up 417 yards with four touchdowns on 36 carries. “That was all in the preparation on our guys’ part, on my part, and we’re going to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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With both squads starting the season 2-0 once again, Kamiakin will get its shot to exorcise one of the few demons it faced in 2016 when it hosts Chiawana on Friday at Lampson Stadium.
“This one’s important, first because, if you want to win the MCC, you’ve got to get past them and Richland,” said Kamiakin senior wide receiver/defensive back Champ Grayson. “But also last year, we didn’t play our best game and everyone knows that. We know that we’ve got a really good shot at beating them this year. And we did last year too, but we just folded over.”
Of course, things ultimately turned out just fine for the Braves last year. Using the Chiawana blowout as a re-focusing point upon which they turned around their season, they went on to go 7-2 in the regular season — losing a Week 6, 21-20 overtime thriller against Richland — reach the state playoffs, and topple west-side powers Eastside Catholic in the semis and O’Dea in the championship to claim the first state football title in school history.
This time around, they’re hoping to not have to deal with the early hiccup.
“This was a big game for us. It was a turning point for us, really,” said Kamiakin senior linebacker Dillon Crawford. “Hopefully we can change that pace this year and not need that turning point, just keep it going consistently throughout the year. Not have to take that initial loss.”
Despite rolling in the game last year, Chiawana isn’t allowing itself to take lightly its first MCC opponent of the season.
“We out-physicalled ’em in the last game, and that won’t happen to them again,” Chiawana coach Steve Graff said. “Those coaches over there won’t let that happen, and they’ll be ready to go.”
Aside from Kamiakin coming into the tilt with a sharper focus than it had last year, Chiawana has troubles to worry about in its own camp.
With senior starters returning at several different spots, the Riverhawks line — particularly on offense — was expected to be among the best in the state this year. But after having to scratch and claw to a 24-14 win over Moses Lake in the opener and a 30-12 victory against West Valley last week, Graff wasn’t mincing words about the team’s play in the trenches, telling the Herald after the West Valley game: “Our offensive line needs to do a better job of setting the tone. They were a little soft tonight.”
Senior lineman Ford Powers agreed with Graff’s assessment of his position group’s play, but said the lackluster performances in the preseason should serve as a timely wake-up call.
“I definitely think it’s better we have that now, rather than later in the season where you’re already three or four games in,” Powers said. “It’s nice that we have that before this big game against Kamiakin. That’s going to set the tone for the rest of the season. The stuff we do in this game is going to impact the games after this and the opponents after this.”
With Biglin’s spread offense, powered by Kamiakin’s bevy of skilled athletes on the edge and in the backfield, facing off against Chiawana’s burly front running Graff’s meat-and-potatoes power-run attack, Friday’s meeting will add another point to the argument of speed vs. strength and size on the gridiron.