Mammoth victories put Puyallup in driver’s seat

 

Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross
jgimse@tacomaweekly.com

Week six of the high school football season ends with the bell beginning to toll heavily on playoff aspirations and league championship possibilities. It is that time of the season where a log jam at the top of the standings explodes with incredible matchups that will determine the fate of grid iron elite in the Tacoma area. If you were to start at the top, we’d first look to the biggest schools, and that contest was a can’t miss on Thursday, Oct. 5, at Puyallup’s Sparks Stadium.

A freshly minted entry into the Associated Press Top 10 had the fans of the 5-0 Puyallup Vikings riding as high as they’ve been in many years. Sitting in eighth place in the rankings, like a missile, the Vikings were fresh off a stunning victory over state powerhouse Sumner just the week prior, where they had hung a nasty 45-24 thumping on the home team Spartans.

Third-ranked Graham Kapowsin entered the match undefeated as well, with a 34-28 victory over Sumner two weeks prior, and a two-touchdown road win over previously-ranked Arlington the week before. The air was electric at Sparks Stadium as if it were a battle made in football heaven, and the near-capacity crowd would bear witness to one of the best football games of the season.

Two undefeated teams would enter, and just one would leave with a near-strangle hold on the 4A South Puget Sound League championship fortunes.

Within a span of the first five minutes, Graham Kapowsin had successfully recovered an opening-game onside kick and then orchestrated a quick four-play, 48-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead out of the gate. The Vikings answered with a grinder of a series beginning at their own 16-yard line and culminating in a 36-yard field goal off the toe of senior Nathen Cutler to make it 7-3 with 6:41 left in the first quarter.

Twenty-three seconds later, the Eagles’ senior receiver Tre Mason would break free from coverage and haul in a deep pass for a 76-yard touchdown strike. The score may have been only 14-3, but the ease at which Graham Kapowsin had already scored their first two touchdowns weighed heavily in the Puyallup air.

After a quick three-and-out, Puyallup would be back on the defensive and working hard to not let the game get away from them. The Eagles would start their drive at their own 38-yard line and, like the previous two possessions, began slicing up the yards as they made their way downfield. After reaching the eight-yard line, Graham Kapowsin would have four shots to get it into the end-zone. After pushing the ball down to the two-yard line, the Eagles had one down left and instead of attempting a field goal, they went for it and paid the price. The Puyallup defense swarmed to the ball and held Graham Kapowsin to no gain, and took over on downs. With their backs against their own end-zone, Puyallup was unable to gain a first down, pushing the ball out to the 11-yard line before punting away.

Graham Kapowsin would take over on the Puyallup 44-yard line and went right back to work, carving up the Puyallup defense. Facing fourth-and-two from the 23-yard line, the Eagles went for it again and this time they hit paydirt. Junior quarterback Dylan Morris hit Mason for another touchdown strike and Graham Kapowsin was now up 21-3 with 8:46 left in the second quarter, and looked to be cruising.

It would also mark the end of the Eagles’ advantage in momentum for the remainder of the contest.

Puyallup’s fortunes began to change on the ensuing drive on the feet of running back Kyle Cramer. The 5’9” junior burst into the middle of the Graham Kapowsin defensive line and then weaved through would-be tacklers for a 22-yard touchdown, closing the Eagles’ lead to 21-9 with 5:47 remaining in the first half.

Both defenses buckled down on the next three possessions, forcing punts. With less than three minutes left in the first half, Puyallup took over possession at their own 32-yard line and went to work. The offense chipped away at the Eagles defense and within six plays the Vikings were about a foot from the end-zone with a first down. Puyallup wasted no time as Cramer would smash his way into the middle of the defensive line, pushing the ball past the goal-line. Graham Kapowsin’s lead was now just 21-16 with 1:03 left in the first half, and Puyallup was firing on all cylinders as the teams entered the locker rooms.

The Eagles would open the third quarter with excellent field position at midfield. After moving the ball down to the Puyallup 18-yard line, the Viking defense held firm and Graham Kapowsin was forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal. The Eagles advantage was now 24-16 with 7:53 left in the third quarter. However, Puyallup was just getting started.

The Viking offense would only need three plays on the ensuing drive to answer the Eagles. After two big runs by Cramer, Puyallup junior quarterback Jacob Holcomb lofted a ball into the end-zone that held just enough air underneath it as senior Landen Neff pulled it out of the sky. A two-point conversion now knotted the score at 24-24 with 7:01 remaining in the third quarter.

Graham Kapowsin still had some punch left in them and answered the bell quickly. When the Eagles’ Morris connected with sophomore Eython Daugherty on a deep pass, Graham Kapowsin was sniffing at the Puyallup end-zone again at the 21-yard line. Four plays later, the Eagles would face fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line, only to be pushed back five yards on a false-start penalty. Now with seven yards for a touchdown, the Eagles settled for a 25-yard field goal and retook the lead at 27-24 with 4:06 remaining in the third quarter.

Puyallup would then put together a 12-play drive that culminated in a 30-yard field goal by Cutler. The score was tied again at 27-27 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

After forcing the Eagles to punt after a three-and-out, the Puyallup offense took over with excellent field position at their own 46-yard line. Five plays later lightning would strike for the Vikings as Holcomb found junior receiver Darius Morrison in the end-zone for a 39-yard scoring strike. Puyallup now led 34-27 with 9:41 remaining in the game, and the Puyallup crowd was in a frenzy at Sparks Stadium.

The Eagles would mount their final drive at their own 35-yard line. At this point, the Puyallup defense looked as if it had been given a shot of nitrous oxide, as they swarmed to the ball like a squad possessed. Graham Kapowsin was able to eke out one first down, but a quarterback sack, followed by a false start penalty, nullified any gains. With just over six minutes left in the game, the Eagles opted to punt the ball away, hoping their defense would get them the ball back.

It would be the end of the line for Graham Kapowsin. They would never touch the ball again as Cramer continued to run roughshod up the middle of the Eagles’ defensive front, gaining four first downs, while chewing time off the clock. A seven-yard blast moved the chains one last time, and Puyallup would finish out the game in victory formation with Holcomb taking a knee as time ran out.

With wins over Sumner and Graham Kapowsin, Puyallup now holds its league championship fate in their own hands. Win their last two games against Olympia and Bellarmine, and they’ve got the 4A SPSL crown. With a loss, there’s still a good chance that Puyallup could earn the title, with a couple of big tie-breakers already in their pocket.

Football fans should mark their calendars for Friday, Oct. 27, as the Lions of Bellarmine Prep (4-1 SPSL, 5-1 overall) will pay a visit to the Vikings (6-0, 6-0) at 7 p.m. The Lions will be tested like no other team in the league over the remainder of the season, with games at Sumner and Puyallup, and a home contest against Graham Kapowsin on Friday, Oct. 20. Should Bellarmine and Puyallup take care of their business before then, the Oct. 27 game would become the 4A SPSL championship game.

Battle of the Vikings goes to Puyallup

Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross

It’s certainly no secret that the Puyallup Vikings girls’ soccer team is a local powerhouse. With five state tournament appearances since 2010, Puyallup has been a regular when folks talk about the best in the area. While the five tournament appearances are very impressive, the Curtis Vikings can also boast four state appearances in the same timeframe. Of course, when the two teams meet, the records can be thrown out the window, because it’s a Viking grudge match.

It really doesn’t matter what the sporting event is, when Puyallup and Curtis tussle on the field, court, track or diamond, they’re not just playing to win. Having to share the “Vikings” name with another team just a short drive away is a big deal for the players, students and alumni. They take this Viking business very serious, and this year has been no exception.

When Puyallup hosted Curtis under the lights at Sparks Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 3, the fine print on the game said that the winner would find themselves all alone in first place atop the 4A South Puget Sound League standings. The two bands of Vikings had already tied each other 2-2 in their season-opener, so the winner would also win the season series. With a rivalry feel already baked into the matchup, the bonus of coming out at the end on top of the other eight teams in the league would add some extra fire to the match that would unfold under the Moon’s watchful eye.

Now that the stage has been set for this showdown, we’ll just cut to the chase. Puyallup is a very dangerous soccer team. They controlled the flow of the game for nearly the entire 80 minutes of play on their way to an impressive 3-0 victory. While Curtis truly gave it their all and did everything they could to keep Puyallup off the scoreboard, it came down to being able to do one thing or another with their game plan. They were either going to try and ramp up the attack on Puyallup’s goal, or they were going to pull back into their own zone and try and limit Puyallup’s scoring.

Either way, it wasn’t going to work on this night for Curtis. When the girls from University Place mounted several attacks in the first half, Puyallup was able to counter with quick strikes while Curtis was now out of position. Once Curtis decided to pull back and stop the long runs down the sidelines, Puyallup just continued to pepper the Curtis goal with shots and near-misses. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this game could easily have been a 6-0 sort of affair.

Puyallup got on the scoreboard just over three minutes into the match off the foot of Meredith Udovich. The super sophomore made a blazing run past the right backline of the Curtis defense and hammered a right foot blast into the far side of the net. Just moments later, Curtis had perhaps its best chance at a score when the ball knocked around just feet in front of the Puyallup goal-box, but no one was able to get much of a toe on the ball before the Puyallup defense cleared it.

It wouldn’t take long for Puyallup to notch another one on the scoreboard. Udovich knocked a pass into the front of the goal that was met by the perfectly-timed foot of fellow sophomore Sydney Evans. The score was now 2-0 Puyallup with just over 10 minutes off of the clock.

Curtis would have two more chances at a goal with consecutive free kicks following fouls drawn by Curtis sophomore Ella Brubaker. The first kick was from the 20-yard line, with the second coming from the 12-yard line. Both shots failed to hit the mark, and the Curtis threat was nullified. The two opportunities would be the best chances of the game for Curtis.

Puyallup took the 2-0 lead into halftime and when the teams came back out for the second 40-minute stanza, the flow of the game remained at the capable feet of Puyallup. With Curtis pulling back from their runs up the left side, Puyallup spent most of the second half either in control of the ball, or attacking the Curtis goal.

With four minutes left to play, Puyallup would strike one more time. Udovich lined up a corner kick and sent a right-footed looper about 10 yards directly in front of the Curtis goal. Playing it perfectly, junior Sunny Bieber met the ball with her head and punched it into the right side of the net for the third and final goal of the night.

At the midway point of the season, Puyallup (7-0-2 4A SPSL) now owns a four-point lead over second-place Curtis (6-2-1) in the standings. Sumner (5-2-1) and Bellarmine (5-3-1) are both tied for third place with 16 points in the standings. While there is still several games to be played before the end of the regular season, it’s going to be interesting to see if any teams are going to be able to match the intensity of Puyallup’s game right now.

Next up for Puyallup is a home match against Rogers on Saturday, Oct. 7. Meanwhile, Curtis will be paying a visit to Sumner. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m. On the same day, Olympia will play at Bellarmine at 3 p.m.

LUTES DO IT AGAIN – Three Turnovers Doom Rival Loggers

Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross

The sun was shining and the Pacific Lutheran Pep Band was rolling steady at Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30. It was time for the annual crosstown showdown between the Lutes and the University of Puget Sound Loggers. To many around Tacoma, the game is still the big rivalry event of the year. For others, it’s just another game on schedule.

This tends to happen when one team (PLU) has won 27 out of the last 29 meetings between the two teams.

When legendary head coach Frosty Westering and his Lutes edged the Loggers by a score of 13-10 at the Tacoma Dome in 1983, it marked the beginning of a huge shift in the crosstown rivalry. Westering began his head coaching career with a 1-7 record against the Loggers. After a four-year break from the game, the Lutes were a vastly different program under Westering, which included national championships and title game appearances.

Since that 1983 game, PLU was 30-4 against the Loggers, and frankly, the games were usually blowouts. So, if you run into someone around town, and they tell you they really don’t think the game offers up much of a rivalry, it’s hard to blame them considering those sort of statistics. However, if you can get a word in edgewise, let them know that despite the decades of beat downs, the Loggers are still the top dog around town, historically.

Despite the recent 23-13 defeat, the Loggers still own the all-time series lead with a record of 45-41-5. I know it’s hard to believe, but this rivalry series used to be flipped completely the other way. When Westering took over the PLU program, the Lutes were 10-34-5 against the Loggers.

If the past two meetings were going to be any sort of indicator, the 2017 matchup was going to be a good one, and it was. After defeating the Lutes 6-2 in 2015 in a torrential rain, the Loggers came into the 2016 game riding high, with an offense that was making an appearance on the national radar. PLU would pull off an amazing comeback, scoring three touchdowns in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter to snare a 31-20 victory.

With recent meetings adding to the intrigue, the game looked to have quite a bit of flavor for the local football fans and alumni in attendance.

When coaches talk about how they’re going to win a football game, one of the most important items is turnovers. If they can limit coughing the ball up to their opponent, their team is going to be in a good position to win. Of course, there are turnovers and then there are mammoth turnovers. The Loggers suffered one of the regular type, and two mammoth ones. With the final point spread at just 10 points, there’s no way to bring up this game without first mentioning the takeaways by PLU.

The Lutes needed just 58 seconds and two plays to get on the scoreboard after taking the game’s opening kick-off. When quarterback Cole Chandler connected with Brady Winter for a 63-yard touchdown pass, the PLU faithful were beside themselves. UPS would take over on their own 30-yard line and lightning struck for the Lutes again, as UPS quarterback Tanner Diebold was intercepted on a short pass by the Loggers’ Tabby Yu. The Lutes would then push the ball to the 19-yard line before getting hit by a holding call, which pushed them back to the 29-yard line, and PLU would ultimately surrender the ball on downs.

When UPS took over at their own 29-yard line, the Loggers’ offense really began to click as they rolled up a 71-yard drive in 10 plays. Diebold would earn some payback with a 13-yard scramble into the end-zone, knotting the score at 7-7 with 4:57 remaining in the first quarter.

The Loggers would then roll the dice with an onside kick, which they recovered on their own 43-yard line. It felt as though there was a momentum swing going on at Sparks Stadium. After marching the ball down to the PLU six-yard line, lightning struck again for the Lutes. Puget Sound’s Duncan Varela had the football squirt out of his arms and just into the end-zone. The ball was picked up by PLU’s Carson Ketter, and the Ocean Shores native was off to the races down the UPS sideline and into the end-zone. The run spanned 100-yards officially, but it had the weight of a 400-yard touchdown run. The Lutes now led 14-7 entering the second quarter.

Suffice it to say, there was some serious hitting going on in this game. If folks had even half of a thought that these players didn’t want this game like no other, they weren’t watching this contest.

PLU would tack on another touchdown midway into the second quarter when Chandler connected with Jacob King for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Lutes a 20-7 lead. The ensuing possession by the Loggers was an absolute grinder that left them empty-handed. Starting their drive at their own 29-yard line, the Loggers would roll-up an 18-play, 59-yard drive that was capped by a missed 28-yard field goal by UPS’ Dre Kristensen. The drive took nearly seven minutes off of the clock, and on the flipside, the Lutes were now riding high.

The two teams played to a stalemate for the first 11 minutes of the third quarter. UPS was then able to mount a successful drive that put some sizzle back into the game. After driving to the PLU 16-yard line, Diebold lofted a pass to the left side of the end-zone, where Dusti Harrison made an outstanding over-the-shoulder grab for the score. After a missed kick, the score was now 20-13 in PLU’s favor with just 1:13 left in the third quarter.

It was not a kind fourth quarter for the Loggers. With both defenses playing at full-tilt, there was some bend in their play, but neither side was going to break. The UPS offense got as close as the PLU 14-yard line before Diebold suffered two consecutive sacks, leading to a 45-yard missed field goal with just 4:34 left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, the Lutes would chew nearly all of the time off the clock, capping their 10-play, 70-yard drive with a 20-yard field goal off the foot of Alex Brost. Down 10 points with 50 seconds remaining, the Loggers were going to need a bit of a miracle.

Instead, lightning struck for the Lutes one last time, as Diebold was intercepted by Anthony Bautista and that was all she wrote for the Loggers.

Up next for PLU is a road trip to Pacific on Saturday, Oct. 7. The Lutes will then return home to face Whitworth at Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. UPS will look to rebound on Homecoming Weekend against Lewis & Clark on Saturday, Oct. 7 at Baker Stadium. Kick-off is also at 1 p.m., and the festivities will include a 50th anniversary celebration of the sensational 1967 Loggers’ football team.