The Hanford Falcons have faced their share of adversity over the past three weeks.
A couple of injuries with three consecutive losses to open the Mid-Columbia Conference season, and the Falcons were looking for something — anything — to get them going.
Joe Gauthier proved to be that something.
Gauthier intercepted AJ Templeton’s pass with under a minute remaining as Hanford (3-3, 1-3 MCC) held off the Kennewick Lions 26-21 on Friday night at Fran Rish Stadium.
“I have been working on that in practice all week,” Gauthier said. “I was trying to get him to throw the ball (there).”
The interception capped a big night for the Hanford senior. Gauthier added five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. The last of his five catches was a 31-yard go-route that gave the Falcons a 26-14 lead with 5:37 remaining in the game. He also threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brady White in the first half.
“We have been trying to get over that hump,” Falcons coach Brett Jay said. “We just kept playing and fighting.”
The Lions (2-4, 1-3) have lost two consecutive games, and they struggled on offense most of the night. They finished with just 162 yards of total offense against a Falcons defense that ranked second-to-last in the MCC coming into Friday night’s game, allowing almost 400 yards a game.
Not so fast
Just when it looked as though Hanford had sewn up the game after Gauthier’s 31-yard touchdown reception, Kennewick came right back. On the ensuing kickoff, Emmanuel KuKu burst down the left sideline 85 yards for a touchdown to cut the margin to 26-21 with 5:24 remaining.
After Hanford went three-and-out, Kennewick had a final possession to get the go-ahead score, as the crowd got anxious.
“We just got on each other and picked each other up,” Gauthier said.
On the fourth play of the drive, the Lions converted a fourth-down with a 22-yard pass play — the Lions’ biggest play from scrimmage on the night — to keep the drive alive.
But three plays later, Gauthier stepped in front of the pass to end the comeback bid.
“Our defense did a great job tonight,” Jay said. “We stepped up and made some plays.”
Bursts of speed
Gauthier has been one of the top receivers in the league all season entering Friday’s game, tops in the MCC with 25 catches and second in receiving yards with 451.
After a relatively quiet first half that yielded just two catches for 61 yards and one rush for four yards, Gauthier used his track speed in the second half to break some big offensive plays.
With Hanford leading 13-7 at halftime, Gauthier gave the Falcons a 20-7 lead on a 16-yard touchdown catch from Garrett Horner with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Horner finished the game 13-of-24 passing for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
Drezdyn O’Daol-Lyons led all rushers with 24 carries for 108 yards, including a spectacular leaping touchdown in the first half that gave Hanford a 13-7 lead.
Ronny Loomis led the Lions with 19 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown.
H — Brady White 34 pass from Joe Gauthier (kick blocked)
K — Isaiah Thornton 18 pass from AJ Templeton (Emilio Ramos kick)
H — Drezdyn O’Daol-Lyons 13 run (Woody Page kick)
H — Gauthier 16 pass from Garrett Horner (Page kick)
K — Ronny Loomis 15 run (Ramos kick)
H — Gauthier 31 pass from Horner (kick blocked)
K — Emmanuel KuKu 85 kickoff return (Ramos kick)
RUSHING — K, Loomis 19-57, Templeton 14-27. H, O’Daol-Lyons 24-108, Horner 4-12.
PASSING — K, Templeton 7-12-2-52. H, Horner 13-24-195, Gauthier 1-1-0-34.
RECEIVING — K, Blake Loftus 3-25. H, Gauthier 5-110, White 4-65.