Chiawana trades high scoring for game management in MCC title-clinching 10-7 win over Kamiakin: 5 takeaways

PASCO — Those who came expected a flashy shootout left disappointed. 

Chiawana traded the big plays for game control and late-game defensive stands to beat cross-town foe Kamiakin 10-7 at Edgar Brown Memorial Stadium on Friday evening.

With a week left in the regular season still to play, Chiawana clinched a league title and the top seed out of the 4A Mid Columbia Conference for the week 10 district crossover with the Greater Spokane League, which means home field advantage. Players flocked to the student section after the game and hoisted up the MCC trophy in celebration. 

Here are five takeaways from a windy night in Pasco:

GO FIGURE: CHIAWANA’S TWO BEST DRIVES WERE SCORING DRIVES

Chiawana sophomore QB JP Zamora.

Not often this season has Chiawana’s offense been slowed to a near-halt.

Such was the case for much of a Friday evening filled with three-and-outs, with the expception of two drives. Chiawana’s two scoring drives — each taking place at the start of the first and second halves — were methodical, time-consuming and effective. 

Chiawana’s first drive of the game chewed eight minutes off of the clock and ended with an 11-yard run by Marvell Cook. On its first drive of the second half, which bled into the fourth quarter, JP Zamora connected twice downfield with wideout Kobe Young, and hit senior Preston Vine to help set up a 21-yard field goal by senior kicker Evan Dawes on the first play of the fourth quarter.

“We took our time, we didn’t rush anything, we stuck to our guns and we knew what we were doing,” Zamora said.

That gave Chiawana a 10-7 lead which, turns out, is all it needed.

“Our defense without our takeaways,” Zamora said. “Our offense was OK, we didn’t watch enough film. But we did amazing all around and came out with the victory.”

RIVERHAWKS TAKE LESSONS AWAY FROM NARROW WIN

Chiawana coach Steve Graff. (Andy Buhler photo)

With the score tied at a touchdown a piece at halftime, the Chiawana coaching staff lit into the players. In the DNA of the Riverhawks’ win, there was a lot the team felt they need to clean up.

“We got chewed a little bit,” Cissne said. “Too many mental mistakes, too many penalties, plays we knew were going to happen that we didn’t make the play on, didn’t read our keys.”

Chiawana still has one regular season game left against Pasco, but clinching the league title Friday night guarantees another home game in the crossover. The Riverhawks say they will be on high alert.

“We can’t just come out and think we’re going to win a blowout like the previous game,” wideout Dion Lee said.

CHIAWANA DEFENSE KEPT KAMIAKIN GUESSING

Tuna “Big Tuna” Altahir.

Scott Biglin described Chiawana’s defense as complex, fast and funky — one that will continually keep an offense guessing what they are going to do.

On Friday night, the Chiawana sent blitzes, disrupted the pocket, got to quarterback Henry Mercado and held Tuna Altahir, the MCC’s leading rusher and one of the top rushers across the state, without a touchdown.

In the week leading up to the game, Chiawana coach Steve Graff said on film he was impressed with how Altahir, or “Big Tuna,” runs harder, and doesn’t go down after first contact this season. Altahir, who had 1,179 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns entering the matchup, said he felt an influx of blitzes all night, and felt Chiawana effectively game-planned to stop him. 

The Riverhawks defense also brought pressure to Kamiakin’s undersized O-line, and sacked Mercado throughout the entire game.

“It was a mix of our defensive scheme, how our defense is set up and the moves we practice day in and day out,” D-lineman Bridger Feldmann, who had a key sack on the Braves’ final third down, said. “Getting pressure on the quarterback definitely made it hard on them to complete passes, get anything going or get a rhythm.”

KAMIAKIN HOPED TO MAKE A STATEMENT. EVEN IN A LOSS, IT DID.

Holding the top 4A offense in the MCC — and perhaps the region — to its lowest point total of the season is an accomplishment in its own right. 

And despite picking up its second loss of the season, and setting up a best-case-scenario second place 3A MCC finish with the GSL crossover looming, the Braves put themselves in position to win multiple times. 

Thank the defense for that. 

“Our defense came to perform,” Braves wideout/defensive lineman Woodley Downard said. “They stepped up and made the big plays when they needed to. They got off the field, won the obvious downs out there and we weren’t scared of anything. We just came out and kept battling.”

Downard had the offensive play of the game — a 40-yard touchdown off a screen where the junior disappeared into a crowd of defenders and came out spinning into the end zone early in the second quarter.

HOW WILL THE MCC FARE IN THE POSTSEASON?

Friday offered a rare glimpse at two programs which have been featured in the top-10 polls — staff and coaches polls — throughout the season, most recently Chiawana at No. 6 in 4A and Kamiakin at No. 5 in 3A.

Did Friday’s game provide any more clarity into how these teams could fare at the state level? 

Hard to tell, given neither has much experience against teams out-of-area, minus Chiawana’s early narrow road loss to Union, which is poised to finish third in its respective league.

But it proved one thing for certain: these teams are not infallible.

They of course must first get through a week 10 GSL crossover, which at the 4A level could draw several teams. Odds are Kamiakin will play Mt. Spokane (6-2) on the road. And Kennewick, which blasted Kamiakin in week four and suffered its lone loss of the season in a blowout to Chiawana, edged Richland Friday night to put itself in the driver’s seat for the one-seed. 

GAME HIGHLIGHTS

Statewide High School Sports Reporter at SBLive | andy@scorebooklive.com

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