Look at what Puyallup has produced in eight games.
All the touchdowns and the ridiculous passing and receiving yards; all the state and school records they’ve set.
It would be easy to get enthralled by the numbers — only to forget that this offense might be watching the playoffs from home if the Puyallup High School football team doesn’t win Friday.
“That’s the point of sports is to win,” quarterback Nathaniel Holcomb said. “I’d give up all my touchdowns to go play in the playoffs and try to win it all.”
All 38 of them? Even though he’s one away from tying Luke Huard’s school record?
Or how about the 10 touchdowns he threw in a 77-60 victory over South Kitsap? It is a state 11-man single-game record.
He also has 3,014 passing yards with a guaranteed two games to go. It’s just short of Brendan Illies’ 3,043 yards — the school record at what might as well be called Quarterback High.
Damon, Brock and Luke Huard all graduated from Puyallup, as did Billy Joe Hobert.
“Stats are fun, but the old adage is that stats are for losers,” Puyallup coach Gary Jeffers said. “I think they all want to win.”
That’s not to take anything away from this prolific offense, because where might the Vikings be without it?
Puyallup is the only school of the more than 60 in the 4A classification to be in the top 10 in points per game (41.9) and in points allowed per game (42.6). And the only way it clinches a playoff spot if it doesn’t beat Bellarmine Prep at 7 p.m. Friday is if Emerald Ridge loses to third-ranked Sumner and Curtis beats South Kitsap.
But win, and the Vikings are in.
“We’ve shown we can hang with teams,” receiver Tallon Yerbury said. “We just got to finish.”
Compared to the run-oriented programs that have already clinched playoff spots in the 4A SPSL — Sumner, No. 5 Graham-Kapowsin and Olympia — Puyallup’s air show is against the grain.
The Vikings’ top three receivers all have at least 700 receiving yards, led by Yerbury’s 49 catches for 938 yards and 12 TDs.
“I think (offensive coordinator Ray) Brassard would concur that we would like to be more balanced offensively,” Jeffers said. “That’s what we’ve shared all along is that we’re always shooting for balance, but we’re also going to play to our strengths.
“We love throwing the football, don’t get me wrong. That would be our first choice. But I think we would still not prefer to be like 75-25.”
To be fair, they actually throw 64 percent of the time to 36 percent runs.
Holcomb has completed 57.3 percent of his throws, (197 completions in 344 attempts). That’s about 100 attempts more than Kennedy Catholic’s Ben Gaoteote (134 of 230, 2,243 yards, 33 TDs), who is the South Sound’s second-most prolific passer.
Holcomb has more passing yards this year than any of the Huards (Damon, Brock and Luke) or Hobert had in their best years. But comparing them is apples to oranges.
“Just totally different systems,” Jeffers said.
Still, here’s how Jeffers explained what’s Holcomb and this offense have accomplished:
“It’s not too often that the emperor stands naked and has to get it done, you know what I’m saying?”
Fortunately, Jeffers further explained.
“Our kid stands out there every day without a run game, with very little play-action pass, has to read defense, has to read leverage and has to know where he’s going with the ball in about 2.1 seconds — because that’s about as much protection as we’ve given him — and he has to get the ball off,” Jeffers said.
“The pink elephant in the middle of the room is he’s getting it done.”
So where did Holcomb come from?
He’s the only quarterback Jeffers has coached with three years of varsity experience. But each of the past two years were cut short by injures.
Holcomb started the first four games his sophomore year — after Illies decided not to play football to focus on baseball — before his season ended with a concussion. Then he sprained his MCL after the sixth week last year.
“It really brought him down. I saw that it really hit him,” said Puyallup receiver Noah McFadden, who has a team-high 55 catches this year to go with his 728 yards and nine TDs.
“It sucked for us because we wanted to see Nathaniel do the best he can, and it sucked for him not getting his breaks,” Yerbury said. “But it’s been cool to see him have the season he’s having now.”
Brassard said that Holcomb, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior, is the only player he’s known who will text him at 2 a.m. after a game to ask about film every week. The only player who came close to Holcomb’s work ethic in film study was Puyallup grad and San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick Josh Garnett, Brassard said.
Chemistry is a big factor in their success, too. Holcomb and his receivers spent just about every day throwing together this offseason. And on the rare occasion they weren’t heading to Sparks Stadium to throw, they were playing ping pong at Holcomb’s house, or hanging out at their favorite restaurant.
Then there’s Holcomb’s arm.
“Nathaniel can make any throw on the field,” Jeffers said. “He has a live arm. And the other thing is that we could all not show up (the coaches) and he could still run the offense. As coaches, we don’t like to say that because it de-emphasizes our importance, but that’s a special quality to have in a quarterback.
“He’s such a wonderful person and a wonderful young man. We know how hard he’s worked to be able to be in this position. Just overwhelming joy to be able to see him create some great memories and create history for himself.”
Now past the injuries and putting up gobs of stats, Holcomb said he just wanted to prove his ability to himself.
“When I hurt my knee last year, it’s hard to come back from an injury,” Holcomb said. “I could feel people saying, ‘Oh, Nathaniel is not really that good.’ It just feels good for myself. It feels good knowing I can play the game a little bit and to have a decent season statistically.
“But I want to get more wins to feel like we truly accomplished something here.”
SOUTH SOUND STAT LEADERS
Through Week 8
1. Nathaniel Holcomb
2. Ben Gaoteote
3. Hunter Wendling
4. Willie Patterson
5. JJ Lemming
1. Scott Gunther
2. Micah Smith
3. Jamon Chambers
4. Willie Patterson
4. Anthony Hathaway
1. Jared Thurber
2. Tallon Yerbury
3. Austin Carder
4. Darius Morrison
5. Marques Hampton Jr.