Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Kevin Petersen
As the Western Washington Football Alliance playoffs reach their climax on Saturday, Aug. 12, at Renton Memorial Stadium, the biggest question mark in the mix is whether any team is going to be able to come close to competing with the two-time defending champion Puyallup Nation Kings. Facing one of their most bitter rivals in the semifinals, the Kings dismantled the Renton Ravens to the tune of 62-0.
It wasn’t even that close.
The 9-0 Kings will face the Tri-City Rage (8-2) for the WWFA championship. While the Rage has proven to be a quality team over the course of the regular season and the playoffs, there are a couple of blemishes on their schedule that should raise some considerable red flags for any Tri-City football fans out there. On Saturday, June 24, the Rage travelled to Wenatchee and fell in a nail-biter by a score of 22-20. Those same Rams fell to the Kings in the quarterfinals of the playoffs by a score of 51-0.
That’s already a bad combination of statistics for those holding out hope for a Rage championship. The worst bit of news for Tri-City fans and their team was the result of the season opener for the Kings. The boys from Puyallup travelled to Granger on Saturday, May 20 to face the Rage, and it did not go well for the Eastern Washington side. Puyallup hammered the Rage by a score of 54-10, and they did it without the talents of their starting quarterback Adam Kruse.
While we’re never in the habit of promoting gambling, it’s fairly safe to assume that Puyallup would be entering the WWFA championship game as something along the line of a 40-point favorite, if Vegas were offering action on it. Still, we have a feeling that number may be a bit too low.
Through nine games, the Kings are averaging a scorching 49.5 points per game, while giving up just 7.8 to their opponents. After missing Kruse for the first three games of the season, the Kings have been averaging an even more incredible 55.5 points per contest since he returned as Puyallup’s signal caller. The Puyallup “Darkside” defense has also run their shutout streak to three complete games.
How does the Rage stack up against these numbers? On offense, Tri-City is averaging a respectable 28.3 points per game. The Rage defense has also put together a strong season, giving up just 18 points per contest.
When it is all said and done, the championship trophy is still going to have to be earned on the turf of Renton Memorial. Statistics look great on paper, but they don’t always turn into a win for the team with the gaudiest numbers. Three seasons ago, the Kings entered the WWFA championship game in Renton, facing a Pierce County Bengals squad that had a couple of blemishes on their record, as well as some win where they just squeaked by their opponent. Puyallup entered the game as a huge favorite to take the trophy.
It was a game that saw both defenses dictate the flow of a tight contest. Two decisive defensive touchdowns were the tipping point for a Bengals’ upset over a Kings squad that was ranked among the top-three in the nation. Of course, since that defeat, Puyallup certainly learned their lesson, going on to capture the next two WWFA crowns, as well as garnering two different national championship trophies.
Can Tri-City pull off a massive upset? It may take the sort of luck that produces a winning set of Powerball numbers, but of course it’s a possibility. One thing they should do is take a long look at how Renton fell to the Kings in the semifinals. They may also need to see if anyone can contact the spirits of Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi for some additional insight.
Renton entered their semifinal matchup against the Kings with a squad stacked with top-level talent. Their offense was unable to run the ball between or outside of the tackles. To free up some time and space, Renton’s quarterback rolled out several times, only to be either sacked, or ran out of bounds for little or no gain. Any positive yardage seemed to be gobbled back up by a Puyallup sack or stuffed run. There was little to no wriggle room for the Ravens’ offense to do anything.
On the defensive side of the ball, Renton was probably a bit more talented than their offensive cohorts, but not nearly enough to keep up with Puyallup’s “Showtime” offense. They were able to slow the Kings down a few times, but Puyallup kept pounding away with inside running plays that suddenly burst out into the open for even more yardage. When Renton was looking to stop the run, Kruse was finding his talented corps of receivers up and down and all over the field.
Puyallup would kick off the scoring on the feet of Kruse, who scrambled untouched from a foot outside of the end-zone for a touchdown. The Kings led 7-0 with 8:14 remaining in the first quarter. After forcing Renton’s offense to punt away after just three plays, the Kings mounted a 70-yard scoring drive. Puyallup’s Marcus Reed capped the drive with a 17-yard scamper to the end-zone, following a 10-yard touchdown run that was called back on a penalty. Puyallup now led 13-0 with 2:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Renton would muster just four yards on their next drive and punted the ball away. Puyallup would need just three plays as Kruse hit Dashun Salgado over the middle and the playmaker did the rest, outracing the Renton defense for a 69-yard touchdown. Following a two-point conversion, the Puyallup lead was now 21-0 with 14:06 remaining in the second quarter.
The Puyallup defense did its thing again on the next drive, snuffing anything Renton tried and the Ravens were forced to punt. Receiver Mike Waller Jr. scooped up the ball at the Puyallup 14-yard line and weaved his way through a host of Renton defenders, while picking up some key blocks along the way. It would go down as an 86-yard touchdown return, and whatever wind that was still in the Renton sails, had now left Chief Leschi Stadium. Puyallup led 28-0 with 11:28 remaining in the second quarter.
On the next Renton possession, Kings linebacker Vikah Lifau stripped the ball away from the Renton quarterback and Puyallup took over on the Renton three-yard line. Three plays later, Anthony France punched it up the gut for the score. Puyallup now led 35-0 with 8:32 left in the first half.
A 37-yard catch and run by Waller added another score and Puyallup took a 41-0 lead with just two minutes remaining in the half. They would nearly add another six to the tally before the halftime whistle, but Kruse’s last two attempts into the end-zone fell incomplete. Puyallup’s Tyler Button would haul in a three-yard pass from Kruse to open the second half, and at 48-0, it was just a matter of watching the time tick off the scoreboard.
Puyallup (9-0) will face Tri-City (8-2) on Saturday, Aug. 12 at Renton Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.