Mark Gunderson was holding his son Gavin in his arm while he followed his players, shaking hands with parents and fans as his Enumclaw High School football team celebrated its first league title in 21 years.
He thought back to when he was an Enumclaw ball boy, when his dad was an assistant coach here.
The former Pacific Lutheran University defensive back didn’t think it would take him six years coaching here to finally having a winning record, but the payoff is pretty sweet.
“I didn’t really want to swallow the process pill,” Gunderson said. “We thought we were going to come in and pull a rabbit out of a hat or something, but it’s a process.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“But, man, it feels pretty good.”
And this running attack is pretty good, too.
Enumclaw used 11 ball carriers to rush for 425 yards as it cruised past Auburn Mountainview, 42-3, on Thursday to clinch the 4A North Puget Sound League Olympic title at Auburn Memorial Stadium.
And this means the Hornets (8-1) will host a district playoff game next week against the No. 4 seed from the 4A KingCo, which will likely be Skyline.
Those KingCo teams play in what is considered one of the toughest leagues in the state. So now’s the time if the Hornets can truly prove if they are a program enjoying its first winning season since 2009 or one built for playoff football.
“I think we’re going to play like we’re the underdogs,” said Enumclaw’s Anthony Russell, who picked off three Auburn Mountainview passes. “Even though we’re the No. 1 seed. Having it be at home is crazy, though. Our fans at home – we’re going to be at another level.”
Since a loss in overtime (off a controversial missed extra point) against Todd Beamer, Enumclaw has won six consecutive games, including over league-favorite Auburn Riverside three weeks ago. It hasn’t allowed a touchdown its past two games.
And it got running back Bear Kuro back on Thursday after missing last week’s 41-0 win over Thomas Jefferson with an ankle injury. He ran for 114 yards on just 10 carries, including a 38-yard TD run to push the Hornets’ lead to 21-3 in the third quarter. Nicholas Herberts had 13 carries for 128 yards and three touchdowns and Kameron McKee ran for 82 yards on nine carries.
Enumclaw clawed its way into a district playoff game last year, but finished the season 5-5 when it took a 56-0 loss to eventual state champion Camas.
“I definitely think they can make a run,” Auburn Mountainview coach Jared Gervais said. “They are big and physical and they get a home game at Pete’s Pool and that’s a tough place to play.
“I just think they are stronger and more experienced than last year. They had to do some growing up facing Camas and that experience served them pretty well. I’m happy for Coach Gundy and those guys. They are playing good football right now.”
But they certainly didn’t get Auburn Mountainview’s best football.
The Lions are still guaranteed of their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs (and even could have earned the league title had it won and got some help from Auburn and Beamer). But they were without reigning 4A NPSL Olympic all-purpose player of the year Talan Alfrey because he sprained his MCL last week. Gervais said he’s hoping to have the Brigham Young University-bound safety, who entered the game leading the South Sound in receiving with 962 yards and 12 TDs, back next week.
“I think we learned just how valuable he is not having him tonight,” Gervais said.
The Lions were also without three starting offensive linemen.
Auburn Mountainview (4-5) will either earn the league’s No. 3 or No. 4 seed defending on the result of the Beamer-Decatur game. That means they’re either facing Graham-Kapowsin as the No. 3 seed or Puyallup as the No. 4 seed.
On the second play of the game, Russell jumped an Auburn Mountainview pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
The defense then forced a punt and Enumclaw’s power-I formation offense went to work – traveling 91 yards on 14 plays for another score to go ahead 14-0.
AMV’s lone score came after an Enumclaw fumble in its own territory. Carlos Huizar made a 29-yard field goal and it was 14-3 at halftime.
But having Kuro back was big. He busted loose for a 38-yard TD on Enumclaw’s opening drive of the second half, Russell followed with his second interception, which led to Trevor Chase’s 10-yard TD and McKee’s 48-yard run set up a second TD for Harberts as the Hornets were off to the races.
“We’ve been underrated for a while,” said Kuro, who switched from wide receiver to running back last year. “It’s finally time for us to shine. Next week will be a good test for us, but just like Riverside, though, everybody was hating on us and then we came out and put on a show. Just makes it a lot better when you prove everybody wrong.”
This is a group that has mostly played together since they were in the third grade. Now they’re league champs.
And maybe more?
“Man, I think they got a little taste of some success last year and they were hungry for more,” Gunderson said. “Playing up (in the 4A NPSL) nobody really gave us too big of a chance.
“But for us, it’s like the classic one-liner – it’s amazing how much can get done if nobody cares who gets the credit. Buy in. That’s what’s given these kids and edge is their buy-in to the program.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
E – Anthony Russell 28 interception return (Kaden Anderson kick)
E – Nicholas Harberts 8 run (Anderson kick)
AMV – Carlos Huizar 29 field goal
E – Bear Kuro 38 run (Anderson kick)
E – Trevor Chase 10 run (Anderson kick)
E – Harberts 4 run (Anderson kick)
E – Harberts 47 run (Anderson kick)
RUSHING – Enumclaw: Nicholas Harberts 13-128; Bear Kuro 10-114; Kameron McKee 9-82; Matthew Dion 9-51; Jackson McCann 5-29; Trevor Chase 2-14. Auburn Mountainview: Isaiah Kenard 4-37; Sui Daniels 10-8; Cooper White 1-5.
PASSING – Enumclaw: Kellen Kranc: 5-7-1-51. Auburn Mountainview: Sui Daniels 14-31-3-138.
RECEIVING – Enumclaw: Kaden Anderson 4-36; Jacob Burns 1-15. Auburn Mountainview: Bill Benjamin 3-49; Cooper White 6-35; Damarea Dunnigan 3-29; Mark Tischenko 2-25.