Some of Chiawana’s biggest fans this weekend might not be who you’d expect.
They will be clad in green and gold, and red and gold, and blue and white.
Despite being rivals on the field, the rest of the Mid-Columbia Conference is hoping the Riverhawks take care of business Saturday night in the Class 4A state title game at the Tacoma Dome.
“I’d like nothing more than the Chiawana kids to celebrate on Saturday night and my good friend Steve Graff to have another state title,” Richland coach Mike Neidhold said. “I’m completely honored those guys represent our league, and am completely rooting for them 100 percent.”
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That sentiment was expressed by many of the coaches around the league, including Kamiakin’s Scott Biglin — though he played for Graff at Pasco High, so he might feel obligated.
“The only time I root against him is when we play them,” Biglin said. “I hope they take it home and win the title.”
That Chiawana is in this position doesn’t surprise many of its opponents, as the Riverhawks have combined a lot of talent with solid coaching to reach the title game.
“I think it starts with Steve’s leadership,” Neidhold said. “They have a recipe for success and obviously it works. Their kids buy into his system and he doesn’t accept anything other than their best effort, as any good coach would do.”
While Graff and company have definitely done a solid job coaching, the talent Chiawana features this year has been second to none for the teams it has faced.
“You have to have the horses,” Biglin said. “You have to have some guys to coach up. If you get the right coaching and the right kids in there, you can make some things happen. Hopefully they take it home.”
Not many teams have been successful against the Riverhawks this season. In their 12 wins, they have yet to score under 40 points and have only given up more than 30 once.
“They don’t have back-to-back bad series on offense and defense,” Walla Walla coach Eric Hisaw said. “The kids play within their system very, very well. They understand what their role is and they do that with a tremendous amount of trust with those around them.”
They do have a loss, though, a 33-26 setback to Lake City, Idaho, that stunned many folks in Eastern Washington.
“We were pretty lucky. They obviously are an excellent football team,” Lake City coach Van Troxel said. “I think we caught them at the absolute perfect time. They were 6-0 at the time and feeling pretty good about themselves.
“We played probably the best game of the year for us.”
While the victory showed that Chiawana was mortal, it also helped the Riverhawks realize that winning a state title wouldn’t be a cakewalk.
“Right now, we are taking credit for refocusing Chiawana,” Troxel said with a chuckle. “They realized if they want to be great, they had to do it every day, every play.”
Troxel didn’t have much advice for how to replicate his team’s success against the Riverhawks, as many teams have found out this season. Beating Chiawana isn’t easy.
“If you are going to beat them, you have to have as good of athletes as they do,” Troxel said. “You better have some good talent and your kids have to play as hard defensively as they can. We played one of the most physical games we’ve played all year defensively.”
Troxel and his staff, along with area coaches, though, are hoping Camas won’t be able to replicate what Lake City did.
“Absolutely (we are rooting for them). It is your side of the state, your league,” Hisaw said. “It makes everyone look better on our side of the state and brings notoriety to our league. It is good for everybody. And I think they have a great chance.”