Three weeks into the season, making a run to the playoffs was about the last thing on the mind of the Kennewick football players, and it had nothing to do with the postseason being six weeks away.
Outscored 124-17 in a trio of blowout losses, the Lions knew they needed more than just a few patches to shore up their team.
It was right about that time that they started feeding Dwight Norwood a steady diet of carries, and life has been pretty good since.
Norwood went ballistic Thursday night against the Pasco Bulldogs, rushing for 238 yards on a 39-carry night and reaching the end zone four times in the Lions’ 35-6 Mid-Columbia Conference rout.
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More than just their second MCC win of the season, the victory puts Kennewick square in the driver’s seat for the playoffs.
“I always kept faith in our team and my teammates along the way,” said senior Jacob Meise, who helps plow the road for Norwood on the offensive line and makes life pretty hairy for opposing quarterbacks at defensive end.
The Lions (3-5, 2-4 MCC) are 3-2 since that rough start, including an MCC win over Hanford last week that has them in command of the 3A division’s third and final berth into the crossover games with the Greater Spokane League.
A loss by Hanford either today against Richland or next week against Southridge, or a win by Kennewick next week against Kamiakin will sew up a playoff berth and likely matchup with Shadle Park and star quarterback Brett Rypien on Nov. 8.
Norwood’s eye-popping numbers all were career highs for the junior running back, who had just 63 yards on 22 carries before going on a 649-yard tear these last five games.
“I give it up to the line,” said Norwood, who continuously carved into the secondary Thursday through a string of sealed gaps.
The game got off to a scary start as Pasco linebacker Kynen Tate was injured on a running play and remained imobilized on his stomach for more than 10 minutes. He was taken to a hospital, and Pasco’s coaches said he checked out fine after suffering what they feared at first to be a broken leg.
Neither team could get much going on offense until Pasco’s T.J. Faamauili broke off a 53-yard touchdown run with 2:53 left in the first quarter. The extra point was blocked, but the 6-0 lead looked like a sign of good things to come.
Instead, what came was heavy Kennewick pressure, a flood of black-and-orange following Faamauili all over the field and giving chase to quarterback Kolby Killoy, who completed just 1 of 12 throws in the first half.
“We just tried to stop them on the run, make sure our front seven beat their o-line,” said Meise, who lived up to his “Spidermonkey” nickname by batting down a couple passes.
As Kennewick’s defense took charge, so did its offensive line, which shares a few players with the other side of the ball.
Norwood zipped through lanes for 22 and 14 yards on a pair of toss sweeps, powering an 80-yard, 13-play drive that ended with his 10-yard TD run early in the second quarter. The drive was sustained by a fourth-down conversion from QB Matt Driver to receiver and brother Mark Driver.
Kennewick converted a mid-field start into a 2-yard score for Norwood on its next drive for a 14-6 lead. Pasco, which suffered its 18th straight loss, failed to take advantage of a series of Kennewick errors late in the half — a fumble that put the Bulldogs on the Kennewick 9, a muffed punt and a botched blocked field goal a la Leon Lett that gave Pasco another crack.
The Bulldogs came away with nothing, and got a steady diet of Norwood in the second half, who scored on runs of 3 and 24 yards in the third quarter.
“He came out of nowhere,” Meise said. “Dwight, that kid’s a beast.”
Matt Driver finished 11-for-13 for 121 yards and a TD for Kennewick. Faamausili finished with 75 yards on 11 carries for Pasco (0-6, 0-8). But the Bulldogs mustered just 155 yards of offense.
Pasco 6 0 0 0 — 6
Kennewick 0 14 14 7 — 35
P—T.J. Faamausili 53 run (kick blocked)
K—Dwight Norwood 10 run (Alvaro Licea kick)
K—Norwood 2 run (Licea kick)
K—Norwood 3 run (Licea kick)
K—Norwood 24 run (Licea kick)
K—Mark Driver 4 pass from Matt Driver (Licea kick)
RUSHING—P, Faamausili 11-75, Kaleb Ash 3-14, Kynen Tate 2-7, Kolby Killoy 5-(minus 19), Brady Ritala 2-6, Cole Kelley 4-5, Jeff Peteson 1-4. K, Norwood 39-238, Eric Moore 6-13, Matt Driver 5-(minus 33).
PASSING—P, Killoy 7-23-0—63. K, Matt Driver 11-13-0—121.
RECEIVING—P, Kendall Lee 2-8, Miguel Chavez 2-14, Ritala 1-24, Kelley 1-8, Faamausili 1-9. K, Tylan Tennancour 4-44, Cody Albertin 2-26, Mark Driver 2-20, Alex Ruby 1-20, Norwood 2-(minus 1).