If one thing became clear during No. 3 Kennedy Catholic’s dominant 41-13 win over Enumclaw last week in the Class 4A SPSL, it was that the Lancers are a legitimate Class 4A state title contender.
The biggest question mark entering the season for the Lancers was how a revamped defense would look this fall. So far, so good, as Kennedy Catholic’s defense has held opponents to an average of just 12.2 points per game this season.
“I think we’re the most improved defense in the state,” said Kennedy Catholic coach Sheldon Cross. “I really do. Compared to where we’ve been, our defensive staff is phenomenal and our kids have done a great job.”
The defense has been boosted by the addition of five-star UW commit Sav’ell Smalls, a transfer from Garfield High who spent his freshman year at Kennedy Catholic and returned just in time for his senior year.
“He’s brought that strong, tough mentally,” said Kennedy Catholic coach Sheldon Cross. “Confidence. He’s helped rubbed off on a lot of our guys. We’re gaining confidence week in and week out. He’s a stud, and he played a monster game.”
And the offense, led by 5-star 2021 UW commit Sam Huard at quarterback, has been among the state’s best, averaging 42.6 points per game through five contests. Huard has completed 107-of-160 passes for 1,653 yards, 22 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
And the Lancers have four receivers with over 200 receiving yards through five games. Junior Alexander leads the way with 24 catches for 506 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jabez Tinae has racked up 437 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22 receptions, while Cal commit Justin Baker has a touchdown and 299 yards on 20 catches. Reed Shumpert has hauled in 17 catches for 263 yards and five touchdowns.
With an elite offense and a vastly improved defense, the Lancers have a real shot at winning it all.
Which other local schools are title contenders?
Graham-Kapowsin (5-0): The first thing that jumps out when watching the fifth-ranked Eagles play is the elite defense, led by an experienced, deep and talented group of defensive backs. It’s a group that has plenty of speed and isn’t afraid to get into the face of opposing receivers and shut them down.
“We’ve known they’re a special group,” GK coach Eric Kurle said after the team’s road-win over SPSL 4A opponent Puyallup, another top-team ranked team in 4A. “We have good defensive linemen and our linebackers and DB’s cover as well as anybody.”
The offense has its share of playmakers, too, led by senior quarterback Nate Thomas, receiver Malaki Roberson and tight end Eyhton Daugherty.
Puyallup (4-1): Last week’s wild win over defending 4A state champion Union was proof the eighth-ranked Vikings can win games in a variety of ways. Puyallup won a mostly defensive battle against 4A SPSL foe Sumner, 29-12 in week three. Against Union? The offense exploded en route to a 42-41 victory.
That kind of versatility should come in handy when the postseason rolls around. Whatever situation Puyallup faces in the state tournament, the Vikings should be able to handle.
Junior quarterback Luke Holcomb is growing in the position, completing 79-of-124 passes this season for 999 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Puyallup’s running back tandem has had success, with Isaiah Dickerson rushing 61 times for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Kyler Johnson, who recently made his return, has rushed 26 times for 122 yards and three touchdowns.
Joseph Dwyer leads the receivers with 22 catches for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while younger brother Jordan has 10 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, linebacker Danny Uluilakepa is one of the state’s best linebackers, leading the team with 55 tackles, an average of 13.8 per game.
Kentwood (4-1): The lone loss for the Conks this season came against Mount Si in week two. Otherwise? Kentwood has been dominant, scoring wins over Skyline, Kentlake, Todd Beamer and Auburn Mountainview.
The 35-14 win over Beamer in week four was particularly impressive, establishing a clear pecking order in the 4A NPSL and setting up a big showdown with Kennedy Catholic on Oct. 26.
Arizona Wildcats commit Alphonse Oywak is one of the best two-way players in the state and is an explosive receiver for the Conks. Running back Gabe Johnson leads the way in the backfield.
Lakes (4-0): The Lancers have yet to face top competition, but the early results have been positive nonetheless, with defending 3A PCL champion Lakes outscoring its first four opponents 218-29.
Curtis transfer Justin Brennan, a junior, has been a natural fit at quarterback for the Lancers, completing 50-of-70 passes through four games for 879 yards, 10 touchdowns and two picks. Versatile sophomore Devon-Nofoa Masoe is one of the best underclassmen longtime Lakes coach Dave Miller has ever coached, rushing 33 times for 348 yards and five touchdowns this season, while adding 178 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches.
And the Lakes’ defense has physical hitters and playmakers all over the field, led by Nofoa-Masoe, J.J. Niuamoa, Jaydon McMillon and Jaedon Hall.
Lincoln (3-2): The record is a bit deceiving for the Abes, who have losses to two top-10 Class 4A teams in Lake Stevens and Camas. Lincoln was in both games until late and should benefit from playing such a difficult non-league schedule.
There are few teams in the area with as much star power as the fourth-ranked Abes, led by four-star defensive back and receiver Julien Simon, three-star corner and receiver Jaylen Clark and three-star Boise State commit Donovan Clark, another corner.
On offense, senior quarterback Caden Filer is once again putting up big numbers, having completed 128-of-185 passes for 1,365 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior Abner Sio has 501 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries.
Simon leads the receivers with 405 yards and five touchdowns on 41 receptions, while Jaylen Clark has 330 yards and six touchdowns on just 24 catches. If Lincoln is able to finish close games down the stretch, there’s no reason the Abes can’t make a run at the title later this fall.
Tumwater (5-0): The top-ranked team in 2A, Tumwater is once again a state title contender, with an old-school rushing attack that no opponent has been able to slow down this season.
Senior running back Dylan Paine leads the charge as one of the area’s best running backs, running behind a strong offensive line, led by senior Viliami Hafoka. Defensively, junior defensive lineman Jacob Schuster is a run-stuffer for the T-Birds.
Quarterback Cody Whalen has been efficient passing the ball when he’s been called on, but Tumwater’s vaunted run game and Wing-T attack and will determine how far the T-Birds go in the state tournament.
Steilacoom (3-2): Try to draw up the polar opposite offense to Tumwater’s Wing-T, and you’d probably end up with the Steilacoom air-raid, led by 5-star wide receiver recruit Emeka Egbuka, who recently passed 3,000 career receiving yards with the Sentinels and is poised to possibly break into the top six all-time state list later this season.
Losses for the Sentinels have come to defending 4A state champion Union and second-ranked 2A squad Lynden, losses in back-to-back weeks in which Steilacoom conceded 97 points.
That was the point when Steilacoom coach Colby Davies challenged his team to be tougher on defense, and the Sentinels have responded, holding reigning 2A SPSL champion Fife to 13 points in a 30-13 win and blowing out No. 10 North Kitsap last week on the road, 57-7.
Cascade Christian (4-0): The Class 1A Nisqually league favorite has been nothing short of dominant this season, opening with a 33-30 win over Class 2A Eatonville and wins over White River, Renton and Bellevue Christian in the following weeks. Quarterback Parker Johnson, a Yale commit, has completed 60-of-86 passes for 1,329 yards and nine touchdowns to three interceptions.
Running back Toretto Metzger-Magalei paces the Cougars with 36 carries for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Conner Zetterberg has hauled in 17 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns, while Isaiah Zetterberg has added 22 catches for 282 yards and three touchdowns.