The playoff picture is becoming clearer by the week in the South Puget Sound League North Division’s football race.
With just three games remaining heading into tonight — and several playoff berths still up in the air — a few things remain in focus:
• Fifth-ranked Auburn (6-0 in league, 6-0 overall) already has punched its postseason ticket. The Trojans finish the season with a nonleague game tonight against Decatur (0-6, 0-6) followed by North Division showdowns again Tahoma and Auburn Riverside. Even if the Trojans lose both of their remaining two league games, they’re in.
• Federal Way (4-1, 5-1) needs just one more win in its final three games to snag one of the North Division’s other three berths. The Eagles’ final three opponents have a combined record of 4-14, making Federal Way a near lock to win at least once.
• Jefferson (0-6, 0-6) and Kent-Meridian (0-5, 0-6) have been eliminated.
What that leaves heading into play tonight is an all-out battle for what likely will be the SPSL North’s No. 3 and No. 4 playoff berths.
And while those spots won’t be decided this week, plenty could hinge on what happens tonight at French Field (Federal Way at Kentwood), Maxwell Stadium (Kentlake at Tahoma) and Auburn Memorial Stadium (Kentridge at Auburn Riverside).
All six teams face similar scenarios: Either win now or go home at the end of the regular season.
“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” Kentlake coach Mike Shepard said. “I think Auburn and Federal Way are the two top teams in the league. But with everyone else, there’s a lot of parity. With two more playoff positions (remaining) in the league, we have to win at least two (more) games.”
The same could be said for Kentwood, Kentridge and Tahoma.
Of those teams, Kentwood is currently playing the best, having won three in a row. During that span, the Conquerors have outscored their opponents, 156-19. A victory tonight against Federal Way wouldn’t guarantee Kentwood a playoff berth, but certainly would put the Conquerors in prime position.
“As far as us turning the corner, I guess this game will be a measuring stick for us,” said Kentwood coach Rex Norris about tonight’s game against the Eagles. “We can’t turn the ball over and we can’t give them free plays.”
But to get to the playoffs …
“Getting to the playoffs, you have to win in Kent,” Norris added. “You have to beat Kentridge, Kentlake and Kent-Meridian. You have to beat them all or at least (two of the three.”
Things aren’t any easier for Kentlake, Tahoma or Kentridge.
Kentlake has lost three in a row since opening the season with three straight wins. The Falcons haven’t advanced to the SPSL playoffs since 2003.
“In all honesty, we’ve got to beat Tahoma,” Shepard said.
Of course, after falling to Federal Way two weeks ago and being stunned last week by Kentridge, the Bears are thinking the same thing.
“We have to get beyond (the loss to Kentridge) and get to this week,” Tahoma coach Tony Davis said.
For Kentridge (2-3, 3-3) every week is a playoff game. A loss to Auburn Riverside (2-3, 3-3) this week, Kentwood next week or Kent-Meridian (0-5, 0-6) in the season finale could do in the Chargers.
Auburn Riverside finds itself in the same boat as the Chargers: A fourth league loss would devastate the Ravens’ postseason hopes.
Though Tahoma, Kentwood and Kentlake have a little more wiggle room, the outlook is well defined: Five wins likely will earn a playoff berth.
“I’m just thinking we’re going to have to win out,” Norris said.
And the same holds true for plenty of other SPSL North teams.
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
• Auburn 42, Kentlake 7: Behind the three-pronged rushing attack of Chris Young, Austin Embody and Jeff Gouveia, the fifth-ranked Trojans (6-0 league, 6-0 overall) steamrolled to 449 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in an SPSL North win over the Falcons (3-2, 3-3).
Kentlake pulled out all the stops against Auburn, even converting an onside kick to open the game. The Falcons also converted a pair of critical fourth-down plays during the first half and took to the air with more success than in previous weeks. Quarterback Lewi Larson completed 14 of 28 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Kentlake went into halftime down 14-7 and still very-much alive for an upset.
The Falcons, however, didn’t concede. Coming out of halftime, they marched the ball down to the Auburn 31-yard line on their first possession of the third quarter.
The tide then turned on Kentlake.
Larson connected with Tyler Wright for a 16-yard gain on a 4th-and-5, pushing the ball down to Auburn’s 15. But Wright, who was reluctant to go down on the play, was subsequently stripped of the ball by Lavoie, who doubles as a defensive back.
“I looked at it and the officials could have called it a stop of progress … But (Wright) was still fighting,” Shepard said. “If he pivots, he could run 20 yards for a touchdown. That’s a learning experience. And I am not going to fault him for fighting.”
• Kentwood 69, Jefferson 6: The Conquerors (3-2 in league, 4-2 overall) have clearly put that two-game slide behind them. Behind another huge performance from senior running back Darrius Coleman, Kentwood ran all over Jefferson last Friday, throttling the Raiders in an SPSL North game, 69-6.
Coleman eclipsed the 200-yard mark for the second straight week, rushing for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. But Coleman was far from alone. Backfield teammate Joe Angevine added 112 yards and two touchdowns on five carries, while quarterback and brother Luke Angevine completed 5 of 6 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown.
• Spanaway Lake 33, Kent-Meridian 26: The wins haven’t yet come for Kent-Meridian, but running back Artise Gauldin continued to post huge numbers last Thursday in a nonleague loss to the Sentinels.
Gauldin, a senior, rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries for the Royals (0-5, 0-6). Gauldin also recorded three tackles and one interception.
• Kentridge 10, Tahoma 0: The Chargers remained in the hunt for one of the four playoff berths from the SPSL North, getting a huge defensive play from Sean Ringor in the second quarter to upset the Bears.
Ringor returned a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown, which proved to be all the offense the Chargers (2-3, 3-3) would need. Kicker Wes Concepcion added a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to account for all the points in the game.
Tahoma (4-2, 4-2) turned over the ball five times.
• Federal Way 21, Auburn Riverside 0: The Ravens (2-3, 3-3) limited the Eagles (4-1, 5-1) to their fewest points since Week 1, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the loss.
Washington State University-bound running back Andre Barrington led the way for the Eagles, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Auburn Riverside couldn’t muster much on the ground, managing just 18 yards on 32 carries. Quarterback John Hakala did complete 9 of 15 passes for 111 yards, but was sacked four times.