KENNEWICK -- The objective for the Hanford football team this week is simple.
"Win and in," said Falcons coach Rob Oram, whose team could clinch a spot in the GSL/CBBN crossover playoffs with a victory.
That job, however, will be much harder than it sounds tonight against fourth-ranked Kamiakin, bucking for its second consecutive CBBN 3A title. The Braves can clinch at least a share of the championship with a win.
"Like I say, we've got to win this game to win league," Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin said. "The kids are approaching this like a league championship."
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But Biglin isn't taking anything for granted against revitalized Hanford (3-4, 3-2), which got an offensive boost when running back Isaac Benard returned from injury last week.
"They're a big, physical team. We played them in summer camp, and they get after you," Biglin said. "You just hope your scheme is better than theirs."
Lately, both schemes have been getting it done.
The Braves (7-0, 5-0) have the top-scoring offense in the league, averaging 33 points a game with a well-balanced attack.
Kamiakin running back Zach Umemoto (112 carries, 738 yards, 7 touchdowns) is third in the CBBN 3A in rushing. Quarterback Jason Hutchison (77-132-2-1, 1,355 yards, 15 TDs) is second in passing. The Braves' defense is just as impressive, leading the league in rushing defense (77.6 yards allowed a game) while allowing just 11.9 points a game.
Special teams has picked up where it left off last season. Jesse Houser leads the league in kickoff return (28.6 yards/ return) and punt return (13.8 yds/return) yardage.
"(Special teams) coach Chad Potter needs to get a lot of credit. He gets pissed in practice when guys don't take it seriously," Biglin said. "Tim White was a very good athlete for us last year, but we haven't dropped off a lot with Jesse."
Kamiakin hasn't lost a league game in more than two years -- its last CBBN loss came Oct. 2, 2009, at Eisenhower.
Meanwhile, Hanford is working to build up some steam after breaking a two-game losing streak with a 23-6 home win over Eastmont last week.
Benard rushed for 203 yards and two long touchdowns on 24 carries while the defense held a potent Eastmont run game to 133 yards.
In fact, the Falcons' defense has humbled some of the league's best running backs this season. In a Week 1 loss to Chiawana, it held 4A all-state running back Jordan Downing to under 100 yards rushing. Two weeks later, West Valley's Cody LaRiviere managed just 12 yards on seven attempts in a 7-6 Hanford win.
Against Southridge, the Falcons' trenchmen held the CBBN 3A's top rusher, Chris Haueter, to just 41 yards on 15 carries.
"We have some talented players on the defensive line. That's certainly our strength," Oram said of the front four of Tyler Sanchez, Cody Kowalski, Xavier Johnson and Zack Gaston. "If your defensive line is strong, it's a little easier to control the run."
Unfortunately, the Falcons will be without injured linebacker Matt Jones for another week. But thanks to a competitive league that has kept his team sharp, Oram is confident the rest of the defense can pick up the slack.
"One thing I noticed is that the league is more competitive than it's ever been. West Valley gave Kamiakin a run for their money, and Southridge barely got out alive against Sunnyside," he said. "I think everybody has good players, and everybody's well coached.
"But I have to say Kamiakin is deservedly at the top. They play better than everybody."
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org