Over the past four months at Sumner High — more specifically at Sunset Chev Stadium — something was happening with the Spartan football team.
It started with a shared belief from the coaches down to the players that built into actions, and when it was done, a team not many thought much of came away with something incredible: The fourth-ranked Sumner Spartans became the 3A South Puget Sound League champions.
“It’s an incredible feeling that not many people thought we could do this, but we proved them wrong,” senior Josh Riley said.
After defeating Bonney Lake (4-4, 3-3 league), 24-7, in the Sunset Bowl on Friday, Sumner (8-0 overall) improved to 6-0 in league and holds a three-game lead on both Auburn Mountainview (6-2, 4-2) and Lakes (6-2, 4-2).
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The league belongs to Sumner, and the road to get there was paved months ago.
A train started greasing its wheels early in anticipation for this season. Dubbed “Purple Train” by the team, this locomotive engine began its push months ago.
The first glimpse of Sumner’s rise was seen in training camp at Fife High — only a glimpse, but enough to bear the seed that this team can reach beyond expectations.
“We only need a quarterback who can drive the bus. With Connor (Wedington) and Josh (Riley), this offense is ready to roll,” Sumner coach Keith Ross said at the time. “The defense is going to be just as nasty and physical as it always is. We’re strong in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams.”
As the heat beat down on the Spartans and the long days moved toward August, a feeling took root on how this team could do more than being just one of the teams in the 3A SPSL.
It was a feeling that Sumner could be at the top of the league. But to do it, the Spartans needed more than just Wedington.
“I can’t let Connor carry this team — I have to do my part,” Riley said in June.
“We going to need to play big and tougher than our opponents,” defensive tackle Jake Harmon said. “We have to show the defense is just as good as our offense can be.”
The interesting aspect about a team that believes is that results always begin to bear fruit.
“All season long, we’ve been out to prove the doubters wrong,” Wedington said. “We come out believing we’re going to win each game.”
The first three weeks of Sumner’s season was expected, if not predictable in how the Spartans were supposed to be 3-0 entering their week 4 meeting with Auburn Mountainview.
The team Sumner faced then was thought to be the league favorites, if not statewide favorites to reach the final four. After all, the Lions are backed behind quarterback Gresch Jensen. If anything Sumner learned over the offseason was this: how to overcome themselves.
The game was thought to be a high-scoring affair, and one team did its part: Sumner, which dominated in a 31-12 win. The stages of belief turning into reality was beginning to set in.
“We just started to trust each other more, believing that if we didn’t make the play, then the next guy will have our backs,” sophomore Tre Weed said.
The Spartans eclipsed the league favorites and were on their way.
Last year, this was panic mode for Sumner and coach Ross. For whatever reason, there were hiccups or speed bumps that prevented the Spartans from reaching their potential.
“We just couldn’t get out of our own way,” Ross said during the summer. “We had 13 turnovers in a four-game span, and we were in each game until the end … But I don’t see this year’s team going through that – we’re a much better team than last year.”
If any moment of Sumner’s season to date that represented the Spartans future, it was week 5 against Peninsula.
In one moment, Sumner faced its worst fear when Seahawks running back Komisi Siolo plowed through the line for an 8-yard touchdown, cutting the Spartans’ late lead to 21-20. When Peninsula coach Ross Filkins called out the kicker, overtime was certain. But then the Spartans blocked the extra point attempt, sealing Sumner’s improbable win.
“This defense rises to the challenge each week knowing it’s on us to win games,” Kolby Nikolaisen said.
Sumner got a little help in week 6 after defeating Auburn, 42-21, at home, as Auburn Mountainview knocked off Lakes, giving the Spartans sole possession of first place.
“That’s huge because it essentially puts us in control going forward,” Keith Ross said while waiting on confirmation of the week’s results.
When Sumner faced Lakes, it was no longer the top of the league squaring off, but of one team clinging onto league championship hopes with another trying to stamp its dominance on the SPSL.
Sumner ran over Lakes as Wedington and Riley combined for 384 rushing yards in the Spartans’ 31-24 win over the Lancers, essentially putting Sumner up by three games on Lakes and Auburn Moutainview, and setting a chance to clinch the title in week 8.
“To be able to win the league title at the Sunset Bowl is an incredible feeling,” offensive tackle Ceth Carnahan said. “I wouldn’t want to win it anywhere else but here at our home stadium.”
After putting away Bonney Lake and securing the league title, there’s no more doubting what Sumner is capable of this season.
The Spartans have a top-five ranking, are undefeated heading into this week and have a chance to close out a perfect regular season on Friday when they face Auburn Riverside (0-7, 0-5). And as the team has always done each week, Sumner won’t underestimate the Ravens, for a slip-up now can be far more costly down the road.
“We’re just going to take it each week at a time, and right now we’re just focusing on Auburn Riverside,” sophomore quarterback Luke Ross said.
Now, with a season of results verifying what this team always believed, it only leaves one question going forward: How far down the tracks can this train go?
“These guys belief in each other is so strong, it makes us coaches believe in them, too,” Keith Ross said. “They have an absolute trust in one another … I love everything about this team’s heart and determination.”
One that hopefully leads down a very long set of tracks.
Engine behind the Purple Train
Connor Wedington (RB): 979 rushing yards, 115 carries, 14 touchdowns, with averages of 8.5 per attempt and 139.9 per game. He also has 261 return yards with a touchdown (punt return).
Josh Riley (RB): 775 yards, 98 carries, 8 TDs, with averages of 7.9 per attempt and 110.7 per game.
Tre Weed (WR/DB): 376 receiving yards, 20 receptions, 6 TDs. He has 13 tackles (12 solo) and one interception return for a touchdown.
Luke Ross (QB): 737 passing yards on 53 for 89 attempts. The sophomore has thrown eight TDs and four interceptions.
Ben Wilson (MLB): 119 total tackles, with 79 solo and 40 assisted and four for a loss. He has three sacks and a forced fumble.
Kolby Nikoliasen (DB): 58 total tackles, with 37 solo and 21 assisted. He also has two fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
Skyler Sandretzky (DB): 63 total tackles, with 33 solo and 30 assisted. He also has two interceptions and a fumble recovery.