When it comes to the playoffs, there is no room to mess around. A couple of bad calls, a few balls bounce the wrong way and the next thing you know your heavily favored team is sent packing scratching their heads and nursing a stomach ache that may linger into the following season. Losing always hurts, but there are some kinds of losses that hurt more than others.
In the case of the Puyallup Nation Kings, they slipped up in the Western Washington Football Alliance championship game in 2014 and saw their undefeated season end without hoisting the trophy they were gunning for throughout their miraculous 12-game unbeaten run. They failed to bring their “A-game” to the championship and the crosstown rival Pierce County Bengals pounced on the opportunity, stunning the regular season champs in the title game.
Fast-forward nearly a year and the landscape has changed for the Kings. Instead of holding onto an unbeaten record, as well as impressive spots in the national rankings, the Kings have been tested by fire this season. Gone are two head coaches. Gone are several players from last season. Gone are some players that started out with the team this season.
After suffering some stinging defeats in nonleague games against big-time opponents to open the season, the Kings cleaned house, regrouped and regained a sense of family chemistry that they were sorely missing. The team has been able to harness the “one game at a time” attitude that seems to be the mantra of so many other champions and now they face a WWFA semifinal matchup against those same Bengals on Saturday, Aug. 8 at Sunset Stadium in Sumner for another crack at the big trophy.
Unlike last season, the Kings finished the regular WWFA season as the fourth-place team and would not get a bye during the first round. Instead, they would host the Thurston County Mayhem at Chief Leschi Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 1 and the game played like a dragster versus a pony as the Kings dropped a 62-14 thrashing on the visitors, performing well on both sides of the football.
After trading possessions to start the game, the Kings forced the Mayhem to punt. Puyallup’s Robert Moaalii busted through the protection, blocked the kick, scooped up the football and rambled 34 yards for the first score of the game. The Kings led 7-0 with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
On the next possession, J.J. Bickham intercepted a pass by Mayhem quarterback Nikolas Walters and the Kings had the ball at the Mayhem 33-yard line. Thurston County’s defense stepped up and forced the Kings to turn the ball over on downs. On the very next play, Walters was picked off by Kevin Graves and the Kings were back in business. After working the ball down to the 10-yard line, Kings’ quarterback Justin Southern narrowly avoided being crunched by three Mayhem defenders and found Corey Newton open at the goal line for a touchdown pass. The Kings now led 14-0 with 13:35 left in the second quarter.
The Mayhem continued their turnover party on the next possession setting up to punt. The snap was fumbled and the Kings would take over just eight yards from the goal line. It would take just one play to hit paydirt as Nigel Harbison took a handoff up the middle and plowed his way into the end-zone. The Kings now led 21-0 and it looked and smelled like a rout was going down.
On the next Mayhem possession, the interception fest continued as Antonio Curran picked off a pass at the 24-yard line and returned it all the way down to the five-yard line. Three plays later it was Southern with a quarterback sneak behind his pounding offensive line and the lead was now 28-0 Kings with 5:46 remaining in the second quarter.
The landslide continued for the Mayhem on the very next play. Isaiah Syph recovered a Mayhem fumble on the kick-off at the three-yard line and it would take an acrobatic catch by James Tyler III from Southern in the back-corner of the endzone on fourth down to extend the lead to 35-0 with three minutes left in the second quarter.
The Kings would score again before the halftime whistle when Southern connected with receiver Ktron Barquett in the back of the end-zone. The 42-0 halftime score looked exactly the way the first half went down. The Mayhem quarterbacks were intercepted six times in the first half alone.
Thurston County showed a little life in the third quarter and turned a fumble recovery at the Kings’ 20-yard line into a 20-yard scoring strike on
the next play. The Kings lead had been cut to 42-7 with 8:20 left in the third quarter.
On the next possession, the Kings chewed some time off of the clock and put together an eightplay, 57-yard scoring drive. After pushing the ball down to the Mayhem four-yard line, Southern took the next snap, faked a handoff and zipped a pass to Samuel Solomon in the front-left corner of the endzone. Puyallup now led 48-7 with 3:35 left in the third quarter.
After losing out on the wrong side of an onside kick to the Mayhem earlier, the Kings’ Nick Rhodes squibbed a perfect kick that took a Puyallup bounce and the Kings had the ball back. Four plays later, Southern would dial-up his fourth touchdown pass of the day as he found James Tyler III open in the f lat. Tyler cut into the middle of the field and took it to the house untouched. The Kings now led 55-7 with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
Thurston County would manage to get on the board again with 4:28 left in the game after taking over possession with just 28 yards to score. Playing mostly reserves, the Kings answered with a 12-yard pass from Tyler to Reggie Woods with 1:55. At 62-14, that would be the ballgame.
Puyallup will play the Pierce County Bengals at 6 p.m. at Sunset Stadium in Sumner on Saturday, Aug. 8. In the other semifinal, the Puget Sound Outlaws will travel to face the Renton Ravens in what figures to be a slugfest from start to finish. The two winners will meet the following week at a stadium yet to be determined. Stay tuned.