RICHLAND -- It's rare that a 9-1 football team can play the underdog card, let alone twice in as many weeks.
But that's exactly what the Richland Bombers, unranked in the state despite losing only to No. 5 Chiawana, have done this week heading into tonight's first-round 4A state playoff game against Ferris.
"We got to play it last week vs. Gonzaga Prep," said Richland coach Mike Neidhold. "Nobody gave us much of a chance against Prep and (Washington State-bound running back) Bishop Sankey when we played last week. We're Richland, and we don't have anybody on the team that's any good."
That last statement Neidhold would love to sell, but he's not likely to get any buyers.
Still, here's what Richland is up against facing No. 3 Ferris (10-0) when the game kicks off at 8 p.m. today at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane.
First, the Saxons didn't just run the table in the Greater Spokane League; they ran it over. Only one of their games was decided by fewer than three touchdowns, and half were by 28 points or more.
Ferris is the returning state runner-up and has reached at least the state semifinals in each of the last three seasons. And the Saxons have played all season determined to get another crack at that title.
Finally, Ferris' defense is top-notch, giving up 179 yards a game. The Saxons have been particularly stingy against the run, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry.
On paper, that doesn't bode well for a Richland team that relies on the running game for 71 percent of its offense.
Thus, the underdog card.
"They're just a really, really good football team," Neidhold said. "They remind me of Chiawana."
Ferris has piled up the offense but doesn't have any one player on whom to focus. Fullback Kole Heidinger is closing in on 1,000 yards and has 11 TDs, but the Saxons' top four rushers have combined for 26 TDs.
Junior quarterback Ben Goodwin is the team's second-leading rusher
(388 yards) and is a remarkably efficient thrower (1,505 yards, 77 percent completion rate, 22 TDs vs. 2 INTs). Senior Jordan Tonani is a danger running and receiving, with 744 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs.
Richland will counter with the top defense in the CBBN 4A, allowing just 213 yards and 12.3 points a game.
The Bombers offense doesn't have the variety of Ferris, relying on Jake McKinney (1,621 yards, 22 TDs) and B.K. Robinson (503, 3) to carry the load behind a veteran offensive line.
"Part of our team that doesn't get mentioned very much is our line," Neidhold said. "Those guys are pretty good too. We just feel like we have nothing to lose, so we're going to go up and play and see what shakes out."
For those fans unable to make the trip, the game will be televised locally on SWX (channel 25-3 over the air or 287 on Charter).