For a team that got off to so many quick starts last season, advancing all the way to the Class 4A state semifinals – the Vikings are doing the complete opposite in the early part of 2019.
And yet, they figure out ways to get clicking.
Sixth-ranked Puyallup scored three touchdowns in a six-minute span in the third quarter to erase a deficit, and wrap up a 29-12 victory Friday night over 4A SPSL rival Sumner at Sunset Chev Stadium.
Junior Luke Holcomb threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, overcoming a pair of first-half interceptions. Wide receiver Joseph Dwyer has eight receptions for 101 yards, including the go-ahead score that triggered Puyallup’s scoring spree.
Here are five takeaways from the Puyallup-Sumner game:
‘Danny U!’: The stadium loud speaker never lies
Vikings linebacker Danny Uluilakepa is a tackling machine. He finished with a school-record – and state-best – 182 tackles last season, including three 20-tackle games.
Uluilakepa was somewhere in that neighborhood Friday night against the run-oriented Spartans, who seemed to hit that wall-of-a-defender every time they ran in the middle of the field.
“Danny’s football IQ is so far off the charts … and he obviously has great athleticism,” Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers said. “He is a heavy hitter.
“I am going to miss hearing that name (over the loud speaker) in the future.”
At times, new Puyallup quarterback Luke Holcomb looks unstoppable – and at other times, he looks lost
It’s never easy replacing your brother at the helm of an offense – especially when your brother is Jacob Holcomb, the 2018 Gatorade state player of the year who played quarterback for the Vikings.
Luke Holcomb has some of the same traits as his older sibling – tight-spiraling passes, good arm strength and underrated athleticism.
But his ability to process game action at regular speed has been hit or miss – and it showed Friday.
The junior led the Vikings right down the field on their first series, throwing a 19-yard score to Angel Sanchez.
But after that, he struggled with two bad interceptions – one in the short left flat that Sumner’s Jaeger Ward easily picked off, and the other on a deep seam route that Lamar Campbell grabbed for the Spartans.
Yet, after connecting with Dwyer on the 25-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, everything seemed to click back in for the first-year starter.
“With what we do offensively, and at the quarterback position, it is a rhythm-type offense,” Jeffers said. “When you are in rhythm, things look awesome. When you aren’t, things look not good.”
In what is largely a new pass-catching cast, the Dwyer brothers could be top targets all season
After leaving Rogers High School, Dwyer and his younger brother, Jordan, immediately went to Holcomb for extra work in the summer, just to get timing down in a new passing offense.
In the third week, it came together for the new additions.
Dwyer caught the 25-yard score down the left seam against single coverage to give the Vikings a 15-12 lead – one they would not give up again. It was his second touchdown catch in three games.
And on Puyallup’s next series, Jordan Dwyer got behind the coverage and hauled in a Holcomb pass and went 77 yards, down to the Sumner 5-yard line – setting up Isaiah Dickerson’s short touchdown run.
“You know, (Jordan) likes outside a little more, because is taller than me,” Joseph Dwyer said. “I wanted to try slot, and get on seam routes, and see how that went.”
Sumner can win many games with its stellar defense and special teams … but that offense needs to improve
Spartans coach Keith Ross thought the first half Friday played out to script.
The defense got key fourth-down stops, forced two turnovers and gave up just one touchdown to the high-powered Vikings.
The special teams registered a safety (tackled punter in end zone), downed two punts inside the Puyallup 20-yard line and got a 42-yard field goal from Wyatt Redding.
But the offense? With four turnovers in the game – and now 13 for the season – it left the fiery Ross reeling.
“(Defense and special teams) are what we base everything on and that is what we will bring every Friday night,” Ross said. “We need to get our offense cleaned up.”
Now the Vikings can turn their attention toward No. 3 Graham-Kapowsin in a 4A SPSL heavyweight showdown
Isn’t this the rematch folks want to see?
Last season, both teams met at 3-0 when Graham-Kapowsin was ranked No. 1 in the state. And the Vikings pulled out a 41-34 overtime victory in Spanaway.
The play that everyone remembers was in the final minute with the game tied at 34-34. The Eagles had first-and-goal at the Vikings’ 1, and Uluilakepa forced an Aaron Olmos fumble to send the game into overtime.
Uluilakepa admitted he has thought about that play every day over the past year.
The two teams meet Friday in Puyallup.
“Graham-Kapowsin?” he said with a big smile after the Sumner win. “I am hyped. I am hyped.”