Far removed from a frustrating 0-4 start to its football season, Kentwood appears to be peaking at the right hour as it carries momentum into the postseason.
The Conquerors have won four of their last five games, including a 54-6 demolition of visiting Mount Rainier last Friday that secured the North Puget Sound League’s No. 4 seed to this weekend’s district playoffs.
“The kids have turned the corner on the buy-in process and getting after it,” said Kentwood coach Michael Bush, whose teams have reached the playoffs in each of his four seasons at the helm. “Lot of growth this year from first game to last game. That’s been exciting.”
Kentwood (4-5) plays the South Puget Sound League’s No. 3 seed – either Curtis, Sumner or Rogers – for a 4A state playoff berth at French Field on Saturday. The three teams were in a tiebreaking playoff Tuesday.
Beyond its short-pass, big-play capabilities, Kentwood has moved the ball behind a punishing ground game, led by senior Gabriel Johnson, who broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier during last week’s rout.
Up front, Kentwood’s road graders have done the job.
“We struggled at the beginning of the season, but it’s nice to hit a rhythm and start to play some really good football,” said Wyatt Hansen, a 6-foot-4, 258-pound junior lineman. “And Gabe is a big part of our offense.”
Derek Kersey, a 5-11, 245-pound senior center, added: “We’ve kind of went back to our old days of pounding the rock until it cracks.”
From the get-go, Kentwood established genuine control against Mount Rainier in last week’s NPSL division crossover playoff romp.
“Right off the bat, the first drive going down we felt like we could do exactly what we wanted to do,” Kersey said. “We had a game plan going in and we executed it.”
Bush likes what he sees in the development of the offensive line this season.
“I honestly think it starts with our line. Our o-line is kinda the bell cow,” he said. “Gabe does a great job finding holes and getting us extra yards, turning those 10-yard plays into 20-yard plays, but our line has done an outstanding job dominating the line of scrimmage.”
Sophomore quarterback Jalin Church also has grown into a dual threat, and, of course, speedsters like Alphonse Oywak and Dyllon Daniels have pulled off big plays.
“We’re competing every single day, every thing we’re doing,” Bush said. “They finally figured out that we’ve got to compete, we’ve got to work hard. When you walk out onto the field they’re not just going to see Kentwood and roll over for you … you’ve got to earn it.”
That was evident in Kentwood’s wild 38-36 victory against Kennedy Catholic two weeks ago. Trailing 36-35 with 1:11 to play, the Conks quickly drove to the Lancers’ 11-yard line, setting up Kevin Oywak’s 23-yard field goal as time expired,
“That was part of the turning point on just the kids buying in and understanding that the coaches are putting in a great game plan together. Coaches are working hard to get what’s best for them,” Bush said of the comeback win. “The whole week was crisp. They executed practice flawlessly, did anything we asked them to do and it spilled over into the game. That propelled us to playing a good game last week.”
This week offers another challenge, but Kentwood has faced them all season, beginning with a rugged schedule that matched it up with powers Sykline and Mount Si.
“(Athletic Director) Jo Anne Daughtry and I sat down last year and said we wanted to play the best teams,” Bush said. “The only way to prepare for the playoffs is by playing teams that are in the playoffs. …. We feel like we’re prepared to play anybody, but we understand that if we go to a game and overlook them, we could lose by 100. If we execute our game plan, we have an opportunity to win in the end.”
Kentwood also is looking to avoid its first losing record in the program’s 37-year history, but that hasn’t affected the mission.
“We’ve moved past that,” Hansen said of the record. “We played some tough teams. We’ve had to compete. We’ve maintained our focus.”
Said Kersey, “We really don’t pay attention to (the record). It’s sort of outside noise. We know where we are, and we’re going to do what we need to do.”
At Kennedy Catholic 68, Kentridge 41: Natano Woods ran for two touchdowns and found Jeremy Banks for another in the Chargers’ NPSL division crossover playoff loss to the Lancers at Highline Stadium last Saturday.
Jaron Gonzalez ran for TDs from 10 and 74 yards for Kentridge (7-2). Louie Albrecht caught a 62-yard TD pass from Payton Thomas.
The game was tied 28-28 at halftime before the Lancers pulled away.
Kennedy Catholic (6-3) advances to play at Puyallup in a district playoff Friday.
Kentlake 30, at Tahoma 18: The Falcons (6-3) defeated the Bears (3-6) in an NPSL division crossover playoff last Friday.
Kentlake advances to play at Lake Stevens in a district playoff Friday.