Where was Kyle Cramer last year?
“I was just always scared to run the ball,” he said.
Where was George Johnston last year?
“I was kind of like not as confident,” he said.
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This season, they’re all over the place for the Puyallup High School football team.
Cramer had a career-best night with 29 carries for 207 yards and three touchdowns and George Johnston intercepted two passes, including one for a touchdown as No. 5 Puyallup rolled in the second half to a 42-13 victory over Auburn Mountainview in the 4A district playoffs on Friday at Sparks Stadium.
Welcome to the state playoffs, Puyallup.
“The physicality of being able to run the ball and the physicality of being able to play defense – there’s a physical nature to our team,” said Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers, who will coach in his first state-playoff game in his eight-year tenure, with the Vikings heading to state for the first time since 2006. “We want to be physical and our guys have expressed the physical nature with which they want to play and how they want to defin this team. And we went out and played a physical brand of football.”
Puyallup will face Monroe next week at a date and time to be determined after the Bearcats rallied in a 44-40 thriller over Mt. Si. Monroe is known for its own smash-mouth brand of football.
And Puyallup has gone from pass-first, pass-second to being able to rely on its running game. Cramer bumped his season running total to 986 yards and Jeffers said he’s never had a 1,000-yard running back before.
“They know they can trust me in these situations,” Cramer said. “I was just always scared to run the ball, now I just love it. Every time they call a play where I can get the ball I love it. Just after working so hard this offseason I felt so much more confident in what I can do.”
Cramer’s third touchdown run gave Puyallup (9-1) a 42-6 lead in the fourth quarter.
But Johnston’s pick-six was the back-breaker for Auburn Mountainview (4-6). He read a hitch route perfectly and stepped in front to return it 24 yards for a score, giving the Vikings a 28-6 lead. It came just after he dove and batted down a deep ball on a pump-and-go route.
Johnston picked off another would-be hitch route on AMV’s next possession, which led to Landen Neff catching a 15-yard TD pass from Jacob Holcomb.
“They just kept throwing those hitch routes over and over and I saw the quarterback stare down his receiver and I just jumped on it and took it to the house,” said Johnston, who would have had three interceptions but one was called back on a penalty. “And I saw him do it again and I was surprised.”
He’s helped lead this Puyallup defense, which has allowed just 18 points per game after surrendering 41.7 points per game a year ago.
Jeffers raved about Johnston’s offseason work in the weight room, and the rest of his team, for this breakthrough season.
“This year, I’m really more confident,” Johnston said. “Because of how much work I put in the offseason. Me and Kyle Cramer and Jacob Holcomb and Branden Ngotel – we put in a lot of work and it boosted our confidence this year and it shows.”
But Auburn Mountainview had its chances.
It scored more points against Puyallup than the 4A NPSL Olympic’s top two seeds, Enumclaw and Auburn Riverside, combined to score in their losses to Skyline and Camas, respectively. And that’s because the Lions had Brigham Young University commit Talan Alfrey return to the lineup after missing last week with a sprained MCL. It’s typically a four-week recovery, but he played, anyway, with a brace on his left knee.
Alfrey knifed into the backfield to tackle Jacob Holcomb and force a Puyallup fumble on its opening drive. But AMV’s next drive stalled at midfield.
Puyallup answered with the game’s opening score, when Holcomb kept it on a read option for a 5-yard touchdown run.
Alfrey then caught a 42-yard pass between three Puyallup defenders on third-and-20, but AMV missed a 35-yard field goal try.
Bill Benjamin followed a play later by interception Holcomb’s pass and returning it to the Puyallup 7. But Puyallup’s defense stood and forced a 20-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
And after a Puyallup three-and-out, AMV’s nonexistent run game plagued it again. It used 12 plays to drive to Puyallup’s 4, but Alfrey was stuffed for a three-yard loss on a Wildcat keeper and Carlos Huizar hit his second field goal, this from 24 yards out, to make it 7-6.
“We should have just thrown it to Talan instead of trying to put him in the Wildcat,” said Auburn Mountainview coach Jared Gervais, who was playing his first game at Sparks Stadium since he was Puyallup’s quarterback before graduating in 2004. “But the Wildcat formation had worked great for us every time we ran it this year and tonight it didn’t because Puyallup is a big, strong, physical football team.”
Puyallup answered with a 13-play drive to score on Cramer’s first TD run with 13 seconds left in the half.
Then it opened the second half with another TD drive as it stole the momentum.
The game marked the final in Alfrey’s career before he heads to BYU, though even with the knee injury – and despite looking clearly hobbled – he finished with 11 catches for 116 yards receiving.
“There’s not even words to describe him,” Gervais said. “He is an amazing player. Probably the best all-around football player I’ve ever coached and one of the nicest kids ever. 3.95 GPA, Eagle Scout, just an all-around great kid.
“BYU is getting a great football player and person. They are going to love him in Provo, and I’ll be shocked if that’s not the case.”
Alfrey finishes the season with 1,078 receiving yards on 66 catches in nine games, and he also led the team in tackles as a safety. He filled in at quarterback almost all of last year because Sui Daniels was injured and he’s also the team’s punter.
“It was really an amazing season,” Alfrey said. “We start 0-4 and I had hope, but the mood on the team was down. Then we just got it going.
“Coaches gave me opportunities to go out and play. It means a lot to hear coach say that.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
NO. 5 PUYALLUP
P – Jacob Holcomb 5 run (Cutler kick)
AMV – Carlos Huizar 20 field goal
AMV – Carlos Huizar 24 field goal
P – Kyle Cramer 6 run (Nathen Cutler kick)
P – Kyle Cramer 1 run (Nathen Cutler kick)
P – George Johnston 24 interception return (Nathen Cutler kick)
P – Landen Neff 15 pass from Jacob Holcomb (Nathen Cutler kick)
P – Kyle Cramer 2 run (Nathen Cutler kick)
AMV – Damarea Dunnigan 17 pass from Sui Daniels (Nathen Cutler kick)
RUSHING – AMV – Isaiah Kenard 5-13; Cooper White 2-11; Sui Daniels 9-8; Talan Alfrey 2-1. Puyallup: Kyle Cramer 29-207; Jacob Holcomb 8-36; Nolan Martinez 5-23; Jacob Vargo 4-1.
PASSING – AMV – Sui Daniels 27-45-2-237; Talan Alfrey 0-1-0-0. Puyallup: Jacob Holcomb 8-13-2-101.
RECEIVING – AMV – Talan Alfrey 11-116; Bill Benjamin 6-73; Cooper White 6-20; Damarea Dunnigan 2-19. Puyallup: Landen Neff 4-57, Darius Morrison 2-36, George Johnston 2-10.