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Bengals can’t match Kings’ intensity, fall from unbeaten

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It was billed as the championship rematch, and it played out like a statement game for the Puyallup Nation Kings. After struggling through an early season that saw two coaching changes and some surprising non-league losses, Puyallup set its sights upon the league-leading and unbeaten Pierce County Bengals and put the Western Washington Football Alliance on notice with a 33-8 handling of the defending WWFA champions.

In front of one of the biggest crowds ever at Chief Leschi Stadium, Puyallup made the most of several Bengal miscues and stifled Pierce County’s offense from start to finish. The Bengals would put eight points on the board off of a fumble return; meanwhile, their offense would be kept off of the scoreboard.

It took four plays for the fireworks to start flying in Puyallup. After holding Pierce County on their opening possession, Puyallup made the most out of a bad Bengal bounce and put a touchdown on the board before most fans had a chance to bite into their hot dogs. After a Pierce County three-and-out, Bengal punter Junior Meade launched a punt off the side of his foot that fell nearly five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The ball took a Puyallup turn, bouncing backward and right into the arms of Puyallup’s Nigel Harbison, who sprinted down field, juked Meade at the 15-yard line and crossed the goal line for a Kings’ touchdown with just over two minutes off the clock. After a Nick Rhodes field goal, the Kings led 7-0.

The Kings pushed the Bengals back on the next possession, forcing a punt on fourth-and-15. This time Meade launched the ball downfield and Puyallup would have to start on their own 25-yard line. Seven plays later, the Kings were knocking on Pierce County’s door again facing a second-and-one from the 18-yard line. After handling several high snaps to start the game, quarterback Justin Southern could only get a finger on the next snap, tipping the ball into the air. Running back Isaac Syph got a few fingers on the ball as well just before the Bengal defensive line crashed into the scene. Pierce County’s J.R. Ala burst from the pack with the ball and began rambling down the field with Kings hot on his heels. Just as he was about to be taken down, Ala pitched the ball back to teammate Robert Edwards at the 25-yard line and two heartbeats later the Bengals were on the scoreboard. Following a two-point conversion pass from Octavus Walton to Pierre Culliver, the defending champs took the lead 8-7 with 3:40 left in the first quarter.

The two teams would then trade the ball back and forth three times over the next four plays from scrimmage.

Puyallup’s Southern was intercepted at the Bengals 43-yard line, which was then answered by a fumbled pitch by Pierce County that was finally recovered by Puyallup’s Kevin Graves at the Bengal seven-yard line. On the very next play, Corey Newton took a handoff from Southern, was stripped of the ball as he hit the Pierce County defensive front and the Bengals came out of the pile with the ball at their own four-yard line. The Bengals would muster no offense during the possession, moving the ball out to just the five-yard line. Meade was forced to punt from the back of the Pierce County end-zone and another punt took a strange bounce for the Kings, as the ball immediately skipped across the ground and was downed at the Pierce County 17-yard line.

It would take Puyallup just five plays to punch the ball into the end-zone as Southern lowered his head from the five-yard line and was met by a host of Bengal defenders three yards later. Before the quarterback’s forward momentum had been stopped, several Puyallup offensive linemen got behind Southern and pushed the pile, and their quarterback, across the goal line. Puyallup’s two-point conversion would fail and the Kings took a 13-8 lead with 10:57 left in the second quarter.

On the ensuing kick-off, the ball bounced the wrong way for Pierce County yet again. After Rhodes dropped a pooch kick in-between Pierce County players, Devante Cyprian beat them all to the football and Puyallup would take over on the Bengal 27-yard line. Cyprian sprinted to the end-zone for what was initially called a Puyallup touchdown, but a drawn-out conversation between the referees followed and they remembered that a kicking team couldn’t advance a fumble and the Kings would have to go to work for more points.

Pierce County looked to have the Kings stopped on the possession at the 24-yard line, but encroachment penalty gave the Kings a second chance. Three plays later, Isaac Syph would run the ball up the middle for a touchdown and the Kings lead was now 19-8 with 8:01 left in the second half.

Puyallup would give up much of the field on the next Pierce County possession and the Bengals worked the ball all the way down to the Kings’ 20-yard line. Throwing into double-coverage in the corner of the end-zone, quarterback Daniel Ramoaie put a little too much air underneath the ball and the pass was intercepted by Puyallup’s J.J. Bickham, who got two feet inbounds just before reaching the backline.

The Kings would put together a long drive on the next possession, reaching the Bengal 24-yard line before finally stalling out on fourth down. It would take just two snaps for the ball to bounce the wrong way for Pierce County yet again as Puyallup’s Samuel Vories scooped up a fumble in the backfield and raced to the end-zone untouched for the score. Puyallup now led 26-8 with just 35 seconds remaining in the first half.

On the second possession of the second half, Pierce County managed to reach midfield before disaster would strike again. Forced to punt on a long fourth down, Meade would see the Bengal snap soar over his head. After recovering the football, Meade tried to regain some ground, but was taken down at the Pierce County 17-yard line. It would take Puyallup just one snap to put their final points on the board as Corey Newton would haul in an open pass from Southern in the end-zone and the Kings would take a 33-8 lead with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter.

Both defenses buckled down for the final 21 minutes of the game and stuffed every scoring opportunity by each other.

The Kings (5-2) and Bengals (6-1) both have one remaining game left on the league schedule. No matter the outcome, Puyallup will host a first-round playoff game on Aug. 1 at Chief Leschi Stadium, while the Bengals, due to tie-breakers, will get a first-round bye, hosting a WWFA semifinal game on Aug. 8 at Sunset Stadium in Sumner. Crosstown rival Puget Sound Outlaws (5-2) will also host a first-round playoff game on Aug. 1 at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood.

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