All eyes were on quarterbacks Matt Mendenhall and Conner Johnson when Southridge traveled to University for a State 3A play-in football game.
Unfortunately, the Titans’ secondary couldn’t keep track of the Suns receivers and Mendenhall took advantage.
The Columbia Basin League’s leading 3A passer with 1,964 yards threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns and ran 15 yards for the winning score as Southridge (7-3) rallied for a 31-27 victory Friday night and a state berth.
His counterpart at U-Hi, Johnson, didn’t do badly either. In the final game of his high school career, Johnson rushed for 188 yards and two TDs, passed for 187 and the other two. But several drops by his normally sure-handed receivers in the first half conspired agains the team.
Still, Johnson rallied the Titans (5-5) from 10-0 behind to a 20-10 lead after three quarters. But there was no stopping Mendenhall. His passes weren’t always pretty, but effective. Several times it seemed he just fired the ball up for grabs and it was his receivers who grabbed it.
“They made some Hail Mary catches,” said U-Hi coach Bill Diedrick.
And when the Titans took a 27-24 lead with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game, Mendenhall carved up the home team through the air covering 68 yards in just 40 seconds to lead for good.
U-Hi made a last ditch effort to pull out a win going from its 26 to the Southridge 21 in a little more than a minute only to run out of downs.
“I’m not negating what Southridge did, they played a good game,” Diedrick said. “But we had an opportunity to make many plays and didn’t do it.”
Southridge broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter following a Titans fumble at midfield. A 33-yard Mendenhall completion set up a field goal.
Johnson hit his favorite target on this night, runningback Zach Bruce (7 catches for 73 yards) from 24 yards out just before halftime. He raced 47 yards out of the shotgun that on a keeper the Suns couldn’t stop. He hit Bruce again for the 10 point lead after Bruce returned a punt 35 yards to Southridge’s 19.
But a 54-yard strike by Mendenhall early in the fourth quarter dampened the excitement a minute later. He then had a 50-yard completion setting up a go-ahead score.
Back came Johnson whose four carries for 37 yards put the Titans back on top.
Again, however, U-Hi’s defense proved defenseless.
Southridge receivers Paul Richards (12 catches, 152 yards) and Paul Hamada (6 for 107) did most of the damage.
“(It was) very disappointing,” Diedrick said. “We left so many plays on the field, this one hurts. It stings to lose like this.”
Kennewick 27, Mt. Spokane 0: The Wildcats’ season came to a close with a loss at the host Lions.
After a scoreless first quarter, Grant Woods scored on a 10-yard run in the second to put Kennewick ahead. Bryce Leavitt added a 10-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Clinton that put the Lions up 13-0 at halftime.
Leavitt scored from two yards out in the third quarter and later threw his second touchdown of the game – this time a 22-yard pass to Brock Schuh – that gave Kennewick a 27-0 advantage heading into the fourth.
Mt. Spokane (3-7) struggled to move the ball against a stout Lions defense. The Wildcats were limited to just 10 first downs and 142 yards of total offense.
Chase Naccarato had 69 yards on 21 carries and Skyler Davis threw for 70 yards to lead Mt. Spokane.
The Wildcats made it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs last year, where they fell to Kamiakin.