Beating previously fifth-ranked Sumner might have seemed surprising.
To follow less than a week later with a 34-27 comeback victory over No. 2 Graham-Kapowsin on Thursday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup?
“The whole thing is a little surreal right now,” Puyallup High School’s eighth-year football coach Gary Jeffers laughed. “But, yeah, it’s just good stuff.”
The eighth-ranked Vikings had all of Puyallup in pandemonium, using a dominant second-half defensive effort and a crushing ground game to hand Graham-Kapowsin its first loss of the season, beating the Eagles for the first time since 2011.
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“It’s just incredible,” said Puyallup’s junior running back Kyle Cramer, who had 28 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“This team is something else. We’re just incredible. … We proved everyone wrong. We proved we can win state. I don’t have a doubt in my mind. I know we can.”
Yes … this Puyallup did this.
This is the same Puyallup that a year ago allowed teams to average 41.7 points on its defense. Its defense gave up 76 points in a loss to Sumner last year and 71 against Graham-Kapowsin.
On Thursday, it shut the Eagles out in the fourth quarter, and had two goal-line stands to prevent G-K from scoring touchdowns.
Puyallup (6-0) ran for 239 yards as a team, held G-K (5-1) to 43 rushing yards, and had a championship-looking drive when the offense milked the final 6 minutes, 15 seconds off of the clock to end the game with 12 plays – all rushes.
A year ago, the Vikings had almost twice as many passes (436) for the season as rushing attempts (243).
“This year, we’re totally together. It’s a totally different vibe,” Puyallup senior Landon Neff said. “We’ve been like this for a while – we’re family now. It’s just way different this year – way different.”
Neff caught eight passes for 94 yards – with his 40-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter tying the game at 24-24. He was also a force defensively at safety.
Puyallup is allowing 15.7 points per game this season, and Jeffers credited Neff with helping this team commit to not just being able to put up gaudy offensive stats, but playing tough on the other side of the ball.
“Defense is passion,” Neff said. “You need passion, dedication and a big heart to play some defense, and that’s what we do.”
It wasn’t looking that way in the first half. Graham-Kapowsin quarterback Dylan Morris, a University of Washington commit, finished the game completing 23 of 35 passes for 364 yards and his top receiver, Tre Mason II, caught 10 passes for 221 yards and two scores as the Eagles built a 21-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“It felt like all those yards they had came in the first quarter alone,” Jeffers said.
But Puyallup got a goal-line stand at the 2 on fourth down and its defense started to gain some confidence, even with G-K without three of its top receivers due to injuries.
Puyallup stood G-K up again near the end of the third quarter. It was about to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2 but the Eagles got a false-start penalty and took a 25-yard field goal, instead, from Colin Manners – his third field goal.
Puyallup tied it back up on Nathen Cutler’s 39-yard field goal that just barely cleared the goal post.
It got the ball back to start the fourth quarter and Jacob Holcomb, the younger brother of 4A SPSL all-time passing leader Nathaniel Holcomb, lobbed a pass to junior receiver Darius Morrison down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown with 9:41 to play.
Morrison had dropped a sure-TD on the drive before.
“On the sideline we were talking about fighting adversity,” Holcomb said. “And I think we did. We came back and fought hard and believed, which is the most important part.”
On G-K’s next and final drive, Morris drove the Eagles to the 32 before Puyallup’s Dylan Alway sacked him, which led to a punt with 6:15 to play.
And Puyallup did to G-K what G-K has done to every other team in the 4A SPSL the past five years – it ran it down the defense’s throat, getting tough runs from Cramer and a 15-yarder from Holcomb to ice the game.
“All I know is in the second half and in the fourth quarter I was saying, ‘Let’s give it to No. 8 (Cramer) and let’s get out of here,’” said Jeffers, who was announced as one of the Seattle Seahawks’ choices for high school coaches of the week for Puyallup’s 45-24 win over Sumner last week.
“Once our kids settled in, we were ready to play. I’m just so proud of them for taking three big punches to the jaw and they still came out and fought.”
Holcomb completed 16 of 29 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns and he also ran for 65 yards. Puyallup is 6-0 for the first time in Jeffers’ career and the first time since 2006.
But as Puyallup proved, anything can happen in this 4A SPSL. It faces Skyline in a nonleague game next week before trying to close out the league title against Olympia and then Bellarmine Prep.
“We talked to our kids about being relevant,” Jeffers said. “One (win) is you got lucky. And two is maybe you are good enough to be playing the top teams in the state. We’ve been believers. Now it’s about finishing strong the rest of the season. We still got a strong league schedule we have to prepare for.
“So we’re excited. But it’s time to get back to work.”
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NO. 2 GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN
NO. 8 PUYALLUP
GK – Aaron Olmos 3 run (Colin Manners kick)
P – Nathen Cutler 36 field goal
GK – Tre Mason III 76 pass from Dylan Morris (Manners kick)
GK – Mason 23 pass from Morris (Manners kick)
P – Kyle Cramer 22 run (kick failed)
P – Cramer 1 run (Cutler kick)
GK – Manners 35 kick
P – Landon Neff 40 pass from Jacob Holcomb (Cutler kick)
GK – Manners 25 field goal
P – Cutler 35 field goal
P – Darius Morrison 39 pass from Holcomb (Cutler kick)
RUSHING – Graham-Kapowsin: Micah Smith 14-35, Aaron Olmos 1-4, D’Angelo Biggs 1-3, Viliami Hansen 2-1. Puyallup: Kyle Cramer 28-170, Jacob Holcomb 7-65.
PASSING – Graham-Kapowsin: Dylan Morris 23-35-0-364. Puyallup: Jacob Holcomb 16-29-0-207.
RECEIVING – Graham-Kapowsin: Tre Mason III 10-221, Eythan Dougherty 6-85, Valentino Hansen 4-38, Drew Hagen 2-12. Puyallup: Landon Neff 8-94, Justin Haase 4-58, Darius Morrison 3-48, George Johnston 1-7.