For the first four weeks of the season, the Kamiakin High School football team mostly relied on its dynamic offense to lead the way to an undefeated start.
But Friday night was a little different, as the Braves used a consistently punishing defensive effort to shut out the Hanford Falcons 30-0 at Lampson Stadium and move to a perfect 5-0 in their state title defense campaign.
“Sometimes the defense has to pick you up, sometimes it’s the offense,” Kamiakin coach Scott Biglin said. “Offensively, we were missing on a few things that we’d like to capitalize on, but that’s a really good football team over there. That score doesn’t indicate how close this game really was.”
Linebacker Parker Larson seemed to be in the middle of everything Kamiakin (5-0, 3-0 MCC) was doing defensively, unofficially registering two sacks and a tackle for loss in the first half alone, and Champ Grayson picked off Hanford quarterback Garrett Horner twice — both almost immediately after Grayson had fumbled on punt returns. And the Braves’ defensive backfield shut down a potentially dangerous Falcons receiving core, allowing the wide outs to gain just 29 yards on five catches.
“Overall, I think the defense played really well,” said Larson, the younger brother of first team All-MCC linebacker Hayden Larson, who graduated from Kamiakin last year. “Our corners and DBs covered really well ... and they (Hanford) didn’t score, so we did our job.”
While defense, for both teams, seemed to be the story, Kamiakin was able to find rhythm in a couple of spurts, as QB Payton Flynn completed 18 of 31 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns (with no interceptions) and Benson Smith caught six balls for 69 yards and two TDs, while also returning a kickoff for a score.
After a scoreless first quarter, Kamiakin registered points in all three phases before halftime. It started when Flynn hit Smith with a 23-yard touchdown pass to cap a 4 1/2 -minute, 78-yard drive to open the scoring near the beginning of the second quarter. Then Dillon Crawford blocked a punt that went out of the back of Hanford’s end zone for a safety to make it 9-0, and Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards for a 16-0 game in the blink of an eye.
Hanford (2-3, 1-2) showed some fight after halftime, driving 53 yards on its second possession before turning it over on downs, then forcing Kamiakin to go three-and-out. But Flynn capped the Braves’ first two drives of the fourth quarter with touchdown passes — the first 21 yards to Champ Grayson, the second finding Smith from five yards out for his third TD of the game — which essentially put a bow on the win.
“I feel like physically we’re there,” Hanford coach Brett Jay said, “but mentally we’ve gotta keep believing that we can play with anybody, and be mentally tough enough to sustain drives.
“But we’re closer. We just have to want to get over the hump. We’ll just get ready for the next game and keep ironing out the mistakes.”
Jared DeVine led a Hanford rushing attack that was effective for most of the night, gaining 133 total yards on 25 touches. Drezdyn O’Daol gained 87 yards on his 12 touches.
Despite winning its first state championship in school history last year — unless, that is, you count the 2010 championship that the WIAA vacated from Bellevue earlier this week — Kamiakin lost two regular season games.
One of those losses was avenged two weeks ago, when the Braves beat Chiawana 26-20 in double overtime, which sets the stage for the matchup of the year in the MCC next week when Kamiakin takes on Richland — the 2016 Class 4A state runner-up — at Fran Rish Stadium.
“It’s gonna be a hard battle,” Larson said. “But I think we’re going to come out on top. Defense is pretty strong, offense just needs to fix a few little details, and yeah, we’ll come out on top.”
The Bombers beat the Braves 21-20 last year when Adam Weissenfels blocked an extra point by then-Kamiakin kicker Garrett Paxton that would have sent the game to a second overtime period. Unlike last year, both teams will roll into this Week 6 matchup with identical 5-0 records.
“I think we’re doing well,” Smith said of the Braves’ chances heading into next week. “We’re almost there, and once we get good preparation, and once we really get firing on all cylinders, we’ll be able to do some good things.”
For Hanford, things get a lot easier in the weeks to come, with a chance to shake off consecutive losses to Chiawana and Kamiakin by facing Kennewick, Southridge and Pasco in succession, three teams that end the week with a combined 4-11 record.
K—Benson Smith 23 pass from Payton Flynn (Kaden Shymanski kick)
K—safety, Dillon Crawford block punt out of end zone
K—Smith 60 kick return (Shymanski kick)
K—Champ Grayson 21 pass from Payton Flynn (Shymanski kick)
K—Smith 5 pass from Flynn (Shymanski kick)
RUSHING — H, Jared DeVine 22-114; Drezdyn O’Daol 11-59; Garrett Horner 8-(minus 11); Thomas Kitchens 1-2; Luke Sutey 1-0. K, Talmage Jacobson 18-54; Tuna Altahir 10-39; Grayson 1-16; Flynn 1-4; Smith 1-(minus 1); team 1-(minus 13).
PASSING — H, Garrett Horner 9-23-2—76. K, 18-31-0-—191.
RECEIVING — H, O’Daol 1-28; DeVine 3-19; Daunte Blackwell 3-16; Kitchens 1-13; Dmetri Kennedy-Woody 1-0. K, Grayson 6-73; Smith 6-69; Colten Chelin 3-38; Thane Thomas 1-17; Jacobson 1-0; team 1-4.