WENATCHEE — A stout, opportunistic defense lifted Wenatchee to another Big Nine win Friday against Davis at Lee Bofto Field at the Apple Bowl. Another low-scoring affair, another contest where the Panthers looked like an entirely different team from the squad that was putting up points in bunches earlier this fall.
A win’s a win, and Wenatchee (5-2 overall, 5-1 league) will gladly take the ugly 17-8 victory over the Pirates. But there is some cause for concern as it has struggled to generate offense at the torrid pace it did to start the 2013 campaign.
“It was another struggle where defense had to win it,” said senior lineman Jakob Stoll, who had another impressive defensive performance. “Our offense had a few great drives in the second half where we put it together, but we need to work on the red zone. The first half, it was offensive line troubles, to wide receiver troubles; everyone seemed to step off this way or step off that way. But that’s what Davis’ defense will do to a team.”
The Panthers scored 167 points in their first four weeks of play and looked unstoppable on the ground and through the air in that stretch. But they’ve struggled to maintain that pace since suffering a lopsided 48-7 defeat in a week five non-league contest against Chiawana: the team’s averaged just 12.3 points per game the last three weeks.
Wenatchee isn’t blowing its opponents out and it’s not running all over the field: it’s doing just enough to scrape by.
Fortunately for the Panthers, the defense has stepped in and performed admirably while the offense is on hiatus and held the Pirates to 164 yards of total offense in the win.
“It’s two weeks in a row the defense has played really well. We’re starting to figure it out, I guess,” coach Scott Devereaux said. “Offensively, I think our guys just expected to show up and beat Davis and obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.”
The Panthers went into halftime clinging to a 3-2 lead and searching for an answer to a blitz-happy Pirates defense.
Wenatchee’s sole red zone trip of the half resulted in a field goal, Dillon Sugg wasn’t getting enough time to make his reads and Isaiah Brandt-Sims couldn’t get the room he needed to rip off big runs.
For whatever reason, though, the tide turned in the second half, and the Panthers’ offense showed dramatic improvement.
“We didn’t change anything,” Devereaux said. “We just executed better. It was pretty much the players. We weren’t mentally ready the first half; they figured it out in the second half. I didn’t rant or rave at them or anything like that. I just told them basically right now, they’re getting beat by (Davis’) front six and they’re playing with more heart than we are. In the second half, I think they changed that a little bit.”
The Panthers assembled three effective drives in the second half — two ended with rushing scores by Brandt-Sims (123 yards of total offense) and the other ended with a fluky fumble on first and goal — and that was sufficient; an encouraging conclusion to a game that wasn’t pretty early on.
“We started off really flat, but we definitely finished strong,” said Chase Resch, who finished the contest with 108 yards of total offense and a game-sealing interception on defense. “We stuck together as a team.”
Wenatchee’s defense has shown its mettle over the past couple of weeks. If the offense can re-climb to previous heights, the Panthers can count on being a force as the season winds down. Moses Lake (5-1 overall, 4-1 league) is next on the plate.
“Our defense has done a good job, our turnover ratio is way up there,” Devereaux said. “… Teams are having a hard time running against us, and I’m very pleased with our defense. But we have to come to play next week against Moses Lake, because it’s not going to be a 49-0 halftime game. Moses Lake’s going to be ready this time and we have to fix it. We have four practices to get it right.”