Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross
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.