Story by Justin Gimse / Photos by Rocky Ross
The world of semi-professional football across the United States is pretty much a mind bender. There are literally hundreds of teams playing at all sorts of levels of competitiveness. It appears that some leagues are taking the forefront and creating a real process toward crowning a national champion. One of those steps toward a national title game went down at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 19.
The champions of the Western Washington Football Alliance were set to face off against the champions of the Pacific Football League. The Puyallup Nation Kings came in riding a 24-game win streak against the visiting Portland Raiders, who brought their own hefty 19-game win streak to the field.
Something was going to have to give, and the end result was going to finally crown a true Pacific Northwest champion.
Throughout the combined 18 games that the championship teams had played thus far, the end result was pretty much a blowout for each and every game. Puyallup rolled up a 10-0 record averaging well over 50 points a game, while giving up just 7 per outing. Portland’s showings were equally impressive, although they played in a PFL league that had dwindled to just four teams by season’s end. Outside of their own league, the Raiders had dispatched several WWFA foes in similar Puyallup manner.
It was nothing but blowouts.
Finally, with all of the chips on the table, the two factions of recent Pacific Northwest domination were going to have at it on the field of battle.
When the final horn sounded, a big breath of relief was let out by the hometown faithful at Sparks Stadium, as the Puyallup Nation Kings dispatched their southern foes by a score of 48-38. For football fans, it was finally a true test for both teams, and the game was still in doubt into the last minutes of the contest.
“The biggest factor of our game was momentum,” said Kings’ co-owner and former defensive lineman Ty Satiacum. “When the momentum was in our favor we capitalized, and creating points off of turnovers which is crucial in big games such as this. Six or seven turnovers created by our defense also helps.”
All the momentum in the stadium was in favor of the Kings in the first quarter. As a matter of fact, the game appeared to be heading toward a massive blowout as Puyallup stifled the Raiders’ offense, causing turnovers, harassing quarterback Russ Schneider and stuffing the line of scrimmage.
After taking the ball on the opening kick-off, Puyallup marched straight down field like a hot knife through a buttery Raiders’ defense. Running back Chris McCutchin punched the ball across the goal-line on first-and-goal to give the Kings a 7-0 advantage with 10:58 left in the first quarter. Following an interception by Puyallup’s Sean Parker, Puyallup drove the ball to the Portland 25-yard line before Portland’s defense stiffened. The King’s had to settle for a big 42-yard field goal off the foot of Paul Dickey. Puyallup now led 10-0 with 8:40 left in the first quarter.
After trading possessions, Puyallup took the ball back following a fumble recovery and short rumble down field by defensive lineman Demetrius Moore. An eight-play, 66-yard drive followed, capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adam Kruse to a leaping Ktron Barquet in the end-zone. Puyallup now led 16-0 with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter.
The second quarter started much like the first stanza, with Puyallup’s Marcus Reed punching the ball up the middle on a short run for a touchdown. Puyallup’s lead was now 23-0 with 12:27 left in the second quarter and the blowout watch had begun. Portland was able to answer the bell on the next drive, thanks to a couple of big Puyallup penalties that kept them alive twice facing fourth downs. Schneider hit Isaiah Smith on a short slant closing the score to 23-7 with 6:31 left in the first half.
Following a Kings punt, Portland coughed up the football on an interception by Puyallup’s Jerome Williams. Just when it looked as though the Kings were going to hit the gas pedal again, Kruse was intercepted by Jason Pabillano, who returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown. The Kings would take a 23-13 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.
Puyallup came out swinging in the third quarter, driving 82 yards to the two-yard line, and then the engine stalled. Dickey put a 20-yard field goal through the uprights and Puyallup now led 29-16. After another Raider possession that went nowhere, Puyallup hit pay dirt again when Kruse connected with Barquet for a 31-yard catch and run to push the lead to 36-16 with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter.
The teams traded possessions before Portland took over on their own six-yard line. With their backs against the wall, the Raiders rolled the dice on a big play. Schneider launched a long pass down the sideline that was caught by Andre Dickson, who then outraced the Puyallup defense to the end-zone for a 94-yard touchdown. Puyallup now led 36-23 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
With Portland nibbling away at the lead, the Kings’ defense stepped up early in the fourth quarter. Schneider sailed a pass too high for his receiver and Puyallup’s Taylor Smith intercepted the ball just an inch from the playing surface. Smith returned the ball inside the 10-yard line, but then fumbled the ball. Luckily, linebacker Vikah Liefau was able to scoop up the ball and take it in for another Puyallup score. The Kings now led 42-23 with 11:52 left in the game. Portland would then put together a 65-yard drive, capped by a short touchdown catch by Nick Bodeman. Puyallup’s lead had now shrunk to 42-30 with 8:45 remaining in regulation.
Puyallup would add another touchdown just over a minute later. Kruse connected with Pierre Culliver on a 64-yard scoring strike that pushed the Kings’ lead to 48-30 with 7:42 left in the game. A late fumble by Kruse would give Portland a short field, but with little time left to do anything. Schneider hit Smith on a 15-yard scoring strike to shrink Puyallup’s lead to 48-38 with 1:36 left to play. An onside kick was on the menu for the Raiders, but kicker Eddie Pazos put too much into it and the ball skipped out of bounds, ending Portland’s chances.
Puyallup will now travel to Sacramento to face the Capital City Fury on Saturday, Sept. 2. Capital City finished the regular season 10-0, winning the Pacific Coast Football League championship. However, the Fury have not played a game since May 13, which could leave them either fresh or rusty. The winner will move on to the semi-pro national championship game in Las Vegas.
“I’ve watched film on our opponent and there’s no question they are the best team in California with an equally impressive 25-0 record,” said Satiacum. “However, they have no out of state play under their belts. We have been battle-tested in multiple states and in dominating fashion. Anywhere the game goes we have a chance. If it’s an offensive shootout, we have the weapons to go there. If it’s a defensive battle we are ready for that too. We will be ready September 2nd.”