WENATCHEE — A big win over a bitter rival, a little outside help, and the Wenatchee Panthers are locked in as Big Nine champions with one regular season game left to play.
The Panthers defeated Eastmont 58-28 on Friday at Lee Bofto Field at the Apple Bowl and earned a home playoff game in the opening round of state after Davis defeated Moses Lake 23-17 in overtime.
“You always want to have any game at home,” said head coach Scott Devereaux, who will make his first post-season appearance since 2010, “so hopefully it’s a big advantage and we pack this place.”
The Panthers (7-2 overall, 7-1 Big Nine) have downed the Wildcats in three straight contests, including a two-game sweep this fall.
Although Friday’s rematch wasn’t Wenatchee’s best showing this season, it was good enough to record another victory.
Isaiah Brandt-Sims led the offense with 174 yards and two scores on 13 carries, Blake Aguilar and Joe Sells combined for another 92 yards on the ground and quarterback Dillon Sugg turned in an efficient performance, going 11-for-18 with 158 yards passing and two touchdown tosses.
While the offense was effective, Devereaux did see some issues, including a 97-yard touchdown return by Eastmont’s Brian Burt his special teams unit gave up in the first quarter.
“Anytime you put up 58 points, you have to be doing something right,” he said. “(But) I thought our special teams weren’t quite on … The kickoff return for touchdown is something that’s been a thorn in our side.”
Nonetheless, the Panthers did enough early on to take control of the contest.
Brock Stone caught a 25-yard touchdown reception from Sugg on the opening drive after a failed onside kick attempt by Eastmont (2-7 overall, 1-7 Big Nine) to go ahead 7-0.
They built on that lead with a 20-yard pass from Sugg to CJ Waterman, a 19-yard run by Sugg and a 7-yard run by Chase Resch to go ahead 27-14 after the first quarter.
Brandt-Sims scored on a 31-yard run in the second quarter, Aguilar had an 85-yard kick return for a touchdown, and the Panthers closed out the half with a safety after an Eastmont punt attempt went out the back of the end zone.
“We couldn’t catch a break,” Eastmont head coach Doug McGill said. “… Just didn’t seem like we could get any momentum going and when we did and we were down a touchdown, they had the return for a touchdown.”
Wenatchee led 44-28 at halftime and scored twice more in the third quarter — off a 16-yard run by Brandt-Sims and a 41-yard fumble return by Kris Garrett — to take a secure 58-28 advantage which held for the remainder of the contest.
Wildcats quarterback Nick McGill finished the evening with two touchdown strikes — one to Carter Haehl for seven yards and another to Burt for 14 yards — and Burt had 99 yards and a score on 18 carries.
While picking up a win over Eastmont is always a big achievement, Wenatchee doesn’t have much time to celebrate.
“We have to keep pushing,” junior tackle Trey Adams said. “I hope we can get far in state. A state title would be awesome, but now we just have to keep working.”
Devereaux said there is plenty to build on before next week’s finale against Sunnyside.
“We’re going to see some things on film in the first half we didn’t do very well,” he said. “That will definitely motivate our players. I’m not too worried about that. I think these guys do a pretty good job on their own — it has to come from within first, and we’ll just try to foster that a little bit. There’s no magic potion right now. This late in the season, you either want it or you don’t. I think we do. And my job’s getting the most out of them.”