KENNEWICK - Considering Kennewick has consistently been ranked as one of the Top 10 Class 3A football teams in Washington state this fall, it came as a surprise last night that the Lions had to resort to a bit of razzle-dazzle to gain the upper hand on the visiting Sunnyside Grizzlies.
Instead of bulling their way through, or lobbing the ball over the Grizzlies, Kennewick was forced to pull a bit of fairy dust from its magic bag to subdue Sunnyside, 20-7.
Don't misunderstand, the mighty Lions rolled up some impressive numbers on the ground Thursday night, thanks to Grant Woods' game-high 221 rushing yards, coming on 26 totes. Problem was, Kennewick had major trouble capitalizing on all those nifty runs by Woods. Just about every time the Lions began sniffing the red zone, Sunnyside's defensive unit stiffened, as it has done numerous times this season, and kept Kennewick at bay.
The Lions finally broke through, using a trick play of sorts. With about three minutes remaining before the break, from the Sunnyside 12-yard line thanks to a big scamper by Woods that got the ball deep into Grizzly territory, Kennewick went with a reverse that ended with the second running back in possession of the ball stopping and lofting a pass to Bodie Simpson into the end zone.
The PAT failed, but the Lions had a 6-0 lead.
The Grizzlies wasted no time in showing Kennewick that they weren't going to roll over and play dead. On the ensuing drive, Sunnyside got a breakaway run from QB Eduardo Salmeron that took the ball deep into Lion territory. Just a few plays later, senior Israel Manzo - making his season debut after flashes of brilliance last year - broke off an 8-yard TD run to tie the game. Manzo then booted the ball cleanly through the uprights to give the visiting Grizzlies what amounted to a short-lived 7-6 lead.
The go-ahead score by Sunnyside came with just 44 seconds left on the opening half clock.
Miraculously, Kennewick got a nearly half of the length of a football field toss-and-catch from QB Bryce Leavitt to his power running back, Woods. A couple of plays later with the ball resting just inside the Grizzly 20-yard line, with just enough time for one more snap, Leavitt handed the ball off to little-used Chase Reining. The Kennewick QB drifted off toward the end zone and Reining spotted him, heaving the pigskin to the quarterback. A yard or two from the goal line, Leavitt went up and over a pair of Grizzly defenders, landing just inside pay dirt with the ball squarely snugged away in his arms.
An ensuing two-point conversion pass from Leavitt to Simpson gave the Lions a 14-7 halftime lead.
Sunnyside, it appeared, looked like it was going to get back into the game in the third quarter, when the Grizzlies commenced a long drive into Kennewick territory. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, a Lion defender scraped the ball from the QB Salmeron's hands, and a Kennewick lineman scooped up the bouncing ball and was off to the races. A few plays later, Leavitt tacked on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, good for a TD, to account for the final 20-7 score.
Although Sunnyside gave up the 221 rushing yards to Woods, the Grizzly defenders limited Leavitt to just 62 yards through the air.
Salmeron didn't fare any better throwing the ball for Sunnyside, completing just 5-of-15 passes for a mere 40 yards. The Grizzlies did find success on the ground, however. Tallying 158 rushing yards total, Sunnyside was led by the tandem of Manzo and Ramon Hernandez. Manzo picked his way through the Lions' coverage for 65 yards on just seven carries, while Hernandez gained 62 yards on 14 carries. Teammate Rudy Navarro also made the most of his time in the backfield, as he took just one handoff but turned it into a 10-yard gain.
SHS Coach Mark Marro said although his team absorbed its fourth consecutive defeat of the season, it's difficult to fault the play of his club, especially with the defensive unit.
"It's like last night...we gave up the 200-plus rushing yards to the Woods' kid, but our kids made a lot of timely stops.
"Offensively, four or five plays go differently this season, and we just have one loss, maybe we're even undefeated.
"This is a good team. Their parents, Sunnyside football fans, they have a lot to be proud of with these kids. Our kids are very resilient. They haven't shown any quit," he added.
Sunnyside (0-3, 1-4) will host the Pasco Bulldogs next Friday, Oct. 7.