It was a long time coming between Sumner coach Keith Ross and Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle.
Sept. 22 was the first meeting between Ross’ Sumner Spartans and Kurle’s Graham-Kapowsin Eagles, a first-ever 4A South Puget Sound League meeting, and one with potential league title implications on the line.
“I respect Kurle as much as any coach in this state, and I knew he would have his team ready,” Ross said. “I knew they would come and give it to us right off the bat.”
As G-K jumped out to a quick lead, it was Ross’ Spartans who overcame the Eagles to give Ross the first win in the two coaches’ meeting against each other.
“Hats off to Sumner (and Ross) for him having his guys ready to play tonight,” said Kurle after the loss.
Over three decades in the making, it was the first time either coach had competed against each other at the high-school level. When Ross (1982 to 1985) was making bone-crunching tackles at Enumclaw High, and when Kurle (1985 to 1987) was lighting up the scoreboard for Puyallup High, these two standouts never crossed paths.
They were so close, yet so far apart.
I’ve always respected Eric and what he stands for as a coach, and how he gets his guys ready to compete each and every week. When our teams meet, it’s going to be exciting.
“I’ve always respected Eric and what he stands for as a coach, and how he gets his guys ready to compete each and every week,” said Ross during the summer before the Spartans played a scrimmage with G-K. “When our teams meet, it’s going to be exciting.”
Ross played for Enumclaw before playing for both Washington State (1986) and Central Washington (1987 to 1990).
Ross’ sentiment was one that Kurle agreed during a brief conversation before the two powerhouse teams went to work under the rain at Sunset Chev Stadium.
“You want to go against teams that are like-minded, with coaches that get the most out of their players,” Kurle said. “We’ve found this friendship between our two programs really helps us get ready for the season.”
You want to go against teams that are like-minded, with coaches that get the most out of their players. We’ve found this friendship between our two programs really helps us get ready for the season.
Kurle, a former Puyallup quarterback for both Mike Huard at Puyallup and Frosty Westering at Pacific Lutheran University (1988 to 1991), said his background has helped shape him into the successful coach he has become.
“Those guys profoundly shaped my views on how to approach coaching,” Kurle said.
But until last week, the two had never coached or played against each other at the high-school level, as the only time was the meetings between Central Washington and PLU (1987 to 1990), when Ross’ Wildcats came out on top with a 2-1-1 record over those four games.
So the matchup at Sunset Chev Stadium was one of the biggest games these two coaches have played over their tenures. It was a matchup that never happened as Sumner was in the 2A SPSL three years ago, and in the 3A SPSL the last two seasons while G-K was in the 4A SPSL.
The nail-biter last week, where Sumner rallied for a 34-27 win, was only a highlight of what’s to come.
“These are the kinds of games you expect when two teams have similar styles,” Kurle said. “We like to run the ball and play physical on defense. And so do they.”
And when teams are so closely matched — and feature coaching styles that tend to neutralize each other’s playcalling skills — it always tends to come down to one play that changes the outcome.
I respect their program (G-K), I love coach Kurle and he plays football like we do. They run the ball, they play physical. You know, we just ended up making a couple plays at the end to win the game. We knew it would be the battle of the titans.
For Ross, that play came in his favor, giving the Spartans’ coach an early 1-0 lead over his friend.
“I respect their program (G-K), I love coach Kurle and he plays football like we do,” Ross said. “They run the ball, they play physical. You know, we just ended up making a couple plays at the end to win the game.
“We knew it would be the battle of the titans.”