All Tahoma wanted was another chance.
After a young Bears squad made it to the championship game in the Class 4A West Central District championship last season, inexperience and pressure caused mistakes that fueled a disastrous 5-0 loss to Gig Harbor.
“We’re in the same game last year, and we get it handed to us,” Tahoma coach Jason Johnson said. “A lot of young kids played in that game. We grew a little bit, and I think we were ready for it this time.”
One year later, it’s a different story.
Backed by late game goals by Nate Mock and Robby Guyer, Tahoma (15-4) was able to pull out a 3-1 victory over Puyallup (12-2-3) to claim their second WCD championship and the No. 1 seed out of districts.
Tahoma will play Kentridge in the opening round of the 4A state tournament at a date and time to be determined early this coming week.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the year, I don’t think we could have done this,” captain Alex Bailey said. “But we’ve grown as a team. It’s expected now.”
That expectation led to Tahoma’s relentless attack right from the gates, as Charlie Wilcox, Christo Mitchell and Cris Garfias formed a formidable trio that forced four corners and five shots within the first 10 minutes of the game.
In the 20th minute, Wilcox found his 6-foot-5 defender in Bailey off the Bears’ fifth corner as the big man hammered in the header to give Tahoma a 1-0 lead.
“I was using people like Cris (Garfias) to just run right into them (Puyallup’s defense), and I just ran around to get free,” Bailey said.
The goal awoke the Vikings, and Puyallup responded within minutes.
Brayan Torres rifled a liner from the right corner and Puyallup defender Sam Ebner powered in a header to level the game at 1-all (23rd minute).
“We did a good job of responding to (Tahoma’s) goals today,” Puyallup coach Matt White said. “Second half in, it was our game to win. But hats off to Tahoma because they are a state-level team who belongs here.”
All second half long, Puyallup’s defense stifled Tahoma’s offense.
The Vikings hammered Bears keeper Brad Bjorn for 10 straight minutes, forcing the senior to defend five shots and three corners.
But after a clearance found Garfias down the field, the junior poked a through ball to Mitchell down the right wing.
Mitchell laced a ground pass to Mock, and Tahoma’s captain one-timed the ball to give the Bears a 2-1 lead (49th).
“I put the ball out wide to Chis (Mitchell) and he put it in. It was a good ball and good team play,” Garfias said.
The goal forced Puyallup to press players forward, opening up space behind the Vikings’ defense. In the 69th minute, freshman Robby Guyer dribbled through Puyallup’s defense on the left side of the pitch, opening up a one-on-one chance with the keeper.
Guyer chipped a shot that was tipped by a diving Owen Ebner, but the ball curled back into the net to put Tahoma up 3-1 and preserve the Bears’ district championship.
“That goal by Robby at the end — he’s just cheeky to get around the defender,” Johnson said.
After the loss, Puyallup will be the No. 6 seed and travel to face Lewis and Clark, the top seed from District 5/8, at a date and time to be determined early next week.