YAKIMA, Wash. -- As the Yakima Mavericks prepare for their playoff opener, there is an air of deja vu between this game and their final postseason contest last year as they again host the Bellingham Bulldogs.
Yakima is hoping that’s where the similarities end.
Bellingham slapped a 34-0 drubbing on the Mavericks in the Pacific Football League’s North Division championship game last summer, taking advantage of the fact that Yakima was missing most of its starting receiving corps — and lost another early in that game — as well as four defensive starters.
Based simply on manpower, the Mavericks are confident they can produce a dramatically different outcome tonight at Marquette Stadium.
“We’re a better team than last year,” receiver Ryan Wright said.
Not just a better team but a nearly complete one as well.
Although starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael and starting defensive back John Devolve will be absent tonight, the Mavericks will otherwise be at full strength — particularly at receiver.
“Actually, we have more than none this year,” Yakima coach Steve Davis said of his wideout situation this time around. “(This year) everybody’s healthy; everybody’s ready to go.”
Not only will Yakima have Wright and Jake Zeutenhorst, who missed last year’s game, and Alex Mahre, who was the one who got hurt, it also has a new threat in Jordan Gaut.
Gaut, who has 64 receptions and 1,107 yards, both tops in the PFL, and 14 touchdowns, and Wright (43-582, 11 TDs), have formed a dynamic tandem that sparked the Mavericks to a 9-1 regular-season record and No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“We’re a lot more dangerous,” Davis said. “If they double team one, we get single coverage on the other. If they double both, we still have Zeutenhorst and Alex.”
“Jordan goes deep so that opens up the middle for me,” Wright said. “We know where we’re going to be on every play. We complement each other very well.”
Having that dual threat along with depth will be a significant advantage over last year, Wright said.
“They (Bellingham) knew exactly what to do (defensively),” he said. “We didn’t have a passing game so they put eight in the box and blitzed us. We couldn’t run the ball.”
“We tried everything. It didn’t work,” Davis said of last year’s rout. “It was a nightmare.”
Although Yakima will be missing its starting quarterback tonight, the Mavericks don’t feel they’re at a disadvantage since they’re turning to the man who successfully led the team the past several seasons, Marshall’s brother John Lobbestael.
“I’m confident in John,” said Wright, who has a good rapport with the quarterback. “I know how he reacts and plays back there. John’s been there and knows how to win games. I respect everything he does with the ball in his hands and we’ll do everything we can to help him out.”
Yakima’s confidence gets another boost by not only having its defense essentially intact but also improved over last year with the addition of defensive ends Wilson Afoa and Bryce Hodson.
“It’s just fun to watch Wilson and Bryce,” Davis said of the tandem that has combined for 18 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss this season. “The defensive backs can play aggressive because they know the pressure’s coming (up front).”
“We haven’t had good, contain D-ends (like that) in a long time,” said Wright, who is looking forward to this postseason. “This is probably my last year, so I want to go out with a bang.”
And reversing last year’s disappointing finish would be a good place to start.