Members of the Kennewick Lions football team knew how big their 12-7 Mid-Columbia Conference victory over Southridge was on Friday night.
That explains the revelry in the locker room afterward at Lampson Stadium, with players dancing, singing to music and generally howling at the moon.
“It’s the playoffs for us,” said Lions coach Bill Templeton.
Indeed it was.
Southridge entered Friday’s game with a 2-3 MCC record (3-4 overall), while Kennewick was 0-5 MCC (1-6 overall).
The Suns just needed a win over the Lions to clinch the MCC’s No. 2 Class 3A berth for the upcoming crossover playoff with the Greater Spokane League.
The Lions still need to beat Pasco next Thursday at 5 p.m. — part of a rescheduled Thursday night doubleheader at Lampson Stadium, with Kamiakin hosting Southridge at 8 — but they have the inside track to the playoffs now.
The win didn’t come easy for Kennewick, which trailed 7-0 at intermission, thanks to a 9-yard Mason Perez TD run.
But it could have been much worse. The Lions fumbled the football away three times in the first half. But the Kennewick defensive unit stood tough. Southridge had the ball inside the red zone three times in the first half and failed to come away with a score of any kind.
“We chose to go with the wind in the third quarter,” said Southridge coach Aaron Sonichsen. “We thought we could put it in the end zone a few more times and put them away. But we didn’t get it done.”
The Lions defense continued to play well.
“Coach (Oliver) Browning (the Lions’ defensive coordinator) did a great job with the game plan,” said Templeton. “And the kids made plays.”
Starting with Cedric Riel. The Lions senior starred on both sides of the ball, rushing for 121 yards on 23 carries, and making nine tackles, breaking up a pass, and intercepting another pass.
“This is the best,” said Riel, looking around the locker room at his teammates celebrating. “This is my last season of football and it’s do or die. Offensively, we wanted to get run production.”
Kennewick got some when Riel scored in the third quarter on a 12-yard run, but the Lions couldn’t convert the extra-point kick to still trail 7-6.
It took a huge play by teammate Emilio Ramos to get Kennewick over the hump late in the game.
With just under 6 minutes to play, the Suns had the ball at their own 3 heading into a constant 20 mph headwind that sometimes gusted up to 30 mph.
Trying to be cautious, the Suns tried running the ball, handing it to Hayden Brimberry — who had a strong performance with 68 yards rushing.
But Ramos, playing linebacker, shot in from the outside as the defense strung the play out on a sweep.
“One of my teammates had him wrapped up, so I came up and just ripped at the ball,” said Ramos.
It came out at the 4. Ramos picked it up and rambled into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“Ramos didn’t practice all week,” said Templeton. “He had some leg problems.”
That happened with 5:22 to play.
The Suns got one last shot with 1:31 to play. But they were back at their own 16.
Lions defensive lineman Moses McAninch sacked Perez back at the 8, then almost got Perez for a safety on an incomplete pass.
Suddenly, Perez settled down, moving the offense down the field with a calm demeanor — and into the wind. Key passes to Brimberry for 11 yards, and tosses of 11 and 15 yards to Peyton Monson, found the Suns at the Lions 15 with 1.4 seconds left.
Perez rolled out and fired to the right corner of the end zone, where Eric Stayrook was headed. The ball landed in a diving Stayrook’s hands amidst three Kennewick defensive backs. But when the Southridge senior came down, he couldn’t hold onto the football, and the Lions’ celebration began.
The Suns could still advance to the postseason if they can beat Kamiakin on Thursday and Kennewick loses to Pasco.
“Football is a microcosm of life,” said Sonnichsen. “How do you respond after this? And the way you respond says a lot about you.”
For Templeton and his Lions, they control their own destiny now.
“Our senior leadership came through,” said Templeton. “We can make a little noise.”
Whoever comes out as the MCC No. 2 will travel to Spokane on Oct. 31 — a Tuesday — to play the GSL No. 2 team for a chance to play in the state regionals. ... A key play that worked in the second half for the Lions was faking the handoff to Riel on the Fly Sweep, then handing it off to fullback JJ Rodriguez on the dive. He finished with 61 yards rushing. ... Monson had six catches for 50 yards for the Suns. ... Lions LB Isaac Ruiz added 9 tackles (one for loss), while McAninch had 5 tackles (one for loss), a QB sack, and a hurry. ... Bond, playing LB for the Suns, had 7 tackles and a forced fumble. Monson and Eddie Korotkov had 5 tackles each.
S – Mason Perez 9 run (Peyton Monson kick)
K – Cedric Riel 12 run (kick failed)
K – Emilio Ramos 4 fumble return (pass failed)
RUSHING – Ken, Riel 23-121, JJ Rodriguez 13-61, Tim Gee 5-10, Talon LaFontaine 1-4, Isaac Ruiz 2-2, Tucker Newman 1-minus 11, Totals 45-187. Sou, Hayden Brimberry 19-68, Perez 8-21, Jaden Walter 1-2, Mason Bond 1-minus 2, Totals 29-89.
PASSING – Ken, Gee 2-6-0-16. Sou, Perez 17-38-1-132.
RECEIVING – Ken, T.LaFontaine 2-6. Sou, Monson 6-50, Logan Grigg 4-26, Brimberry 2-21, Calee Beal 3-19, Eric Stayrook 2-16.
FIRST DOWNS – Ken 11, Sou 15. FUMBLES-LOST – Ken 3-3, Sou 1-1. PENALTIES-YARDS – Ken 8-88, Sou 6-49.