KENNEWICK -- Do not bring up any nonsense of a moral victory to the Kamiakin football team. Not to the players, not to the coaches.
A loss is still a loss, and this time of year, it ends the season.
Which is why there weren't any smiles coming out of the Braves' locker room Saturday evening after a 21-10 Class 3A state semifinal loss to top-ranked and three-time defending champion Bellevue at Lampson Stadium.
"I'm not into moral victories," coach Scott Biglin said after his boys stood toe-to-toe with a team ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation. "I'm not satisfied playing close and losing. I'm satisfied when we play well, and we did. We played with one of the best teams in the nation, and it was close."
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Close? The Braves (12-1) made Bellevue (13-0) look downright human in the first half.
They took the opening kickoff and stuffed it in the Wolverines' faces, marching to the Bellevue 13 thanks to a nice mix of plays. Zach Umemoto got off to a strong start, dashing off runs of 9 and 14 yards, and Jason Hutchison converted 10-yard throws to Corey McLean and Brandon Larson.
But the push stalled inside the 20, and Blake Wagar came on for a 35-yard field goal.
It was the first points Kamiakin had scored against Bellevue -- the Braves lost 38-0 in last year's 3A state title game -- but turned out to be a portent of things to come.
"We marched the ball down the field," said senior lineman Joe Hunt, "but we sputtered inside the 30 and couldn't get in."
And it happened again and again.
The Braves captured four turnovers in the first half -- Umemoto intercepted two passes, and James Swinyard and Tyler Merkel recovered a pair of fumbles -- but didn't turn them into any points.
Umemoto ran for 103 yards in the first half, and Kamiakin outgained Bellevue's vaunted wing-T 169-129 over the first two quarters ... and mustered a 3-0 lead.
"You got to take advantage of the opportunities," Biglin said. "They don't make mistakes like that. You've got to make them pay.
"You can't be off when you play these guys."
Bellevue, playing like a team and a coaching staff that has won eight state titles in 10 years, didn't lose its cool or start to press. It simply started playing like a champion.
"We weren't in a bad mood," Wolverines defensive tackle Darien Freeman said. "We knew we made mistakes. The second half, we just needed to come out and play flawless."
Perfect? Probably not, but pretty darn close.
Bellevue came out in the second half and made one big adjustment on offense -- the Wolverines quit running at Hunt and started going power to the left side.
"No. 55 is pretty good," Wolverines coach Butch Goncharoff said of running almost exclusively to the left, "and we were moving away from him."
John Nguyen got all six carries on the opening drive, covering 70 yards and finishing with an 8-yard TD run on fourth down.
Despite all its woes in the first half, Bellevue suddenly had the lead. And it didn't let up.
The Wolverines' second drive, covering 72 yards, ended with Tyler Hasty running in from 23 yards out for another fourth-down score.
Those two drives chewed up most of the third quarter, and a drive that started midway through the fourth put the game away on Joey Moore's 19-yard run.
"We played like (last week) was the championship game," Freeman said, referring to Bellevue's 35-14 win over No. 2 Lakes. "We found out today you can't do that. Every day is the championship game."
While Bellevue's offense was gaining steam, Kamiakin's started spinning its wheels.
Umemoto was neutralized in the second half as defenders started knifing into the backfield to keep him from hitting the line at full speed. After topping the century mark in the first two quarters, he gained just 23 yards after that.
And while Hutchison continued to move the offense -- he finished 14-of-29 for 190 yards and a pick -- it still stalled out as it got closer to the end zone.
"We had the game in our hands," Hutchison said. "We just couldn't pull the thing out."
Larson and Andrew Castillo each had three catches for 51 yards, Larson making a 26-yard grab to set up Umemoto's 1-yard TD run in the final minute.
The score meant little to the outcome of the game, but was a boost to the Braves.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Hunt said. "We fought to the end. An 11-point difference.
"That last touchdown, we told ourselves we're going to go out swinging, and that's what we did. Our goal was to put it in the end zone, and we showed them we could."
Saturday's game was a far better effort from the Braves than last year's championship game, and the score reflected it. But that doesn't mean it didn't sting just as much.
"For all the seniors, it's hard," center Sean Clausen said. "You can tell by the kids walking out and crying. They all care."
* Kevin Anthony: 509-582-1403; firstname.lastname@example.org
Bellevue 21, Kamiakin 10
Bellevue 0 0 14 7 -- 21
Kamiakin 3 0 0 7 -- 10
K--FG Blake Wagar 35
B--John Nguyen 8 run (Mitch Johnson kick)
B--Tyler Hasty 23 run (Johnson kick)
B--Joey Moore 19 run (Johnson kick)
K--Zach Umemoto 1 run (Wagar kick)
RUSHING--B, Nguyen 15-116, Hasty 5-50, Moore 3-24, Myles Jack 5-11, Ari Morales 5-37, Andy Boulware 7-40, Dakota Jones 2-11. K, Umemoto 25-126, Jason Hutchison 6-0.
PASSING--B, Hasty 5-10-2-39. K, Hutchison 14-29-1-190.
RECEIVING--B, Scott Whiting 5-39. K, Larson 3-51, Andrew Castillo 3-51, Jesse Houser 2-30, Merkel 2-26, James Swinyard 1-20, McLean 1-10, Jensen 1-2.
FIRST DOWNS--B 16, K 16. FUMBLES-LOST--B 2-2, K 0-0. PENALTIES-YARDS--B 4-25, K 2-15.