In the 77th minute, with Puyallup tied 1-1 against Mount Si in the Class 4A state boys soccer championship game at Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Craig Johnson and Logan Oyama stood over a free kick, just outside of the box.
Johnson turned to Oyama and offered a few simple words: Shoot it back post, win the game.
Oyama took the advice to heart, sending a laser-goal into the top right corner of the goal and past the outstretched arms of the keeper to deliver the 2-1 state championship win for the Vikings.
It’s the program’s first state title.
“It was really just the belief my teammates had in me and ultimately, it just ended up being a good strike,” Oyama said. “At the end of the day, we came out on top and it feels great.”
It was Johnson’s grit that gave Oyama the shot, as Johnson was dribbling through a crowd of defenders just moments earlier and was pulled down by his jersey by a Mount Si defender, who was sent off with a straight red card.
“I saw where the wall was lined up and where the keeper was,” Johnson said. “He put it where it needed to be. He’s been an animal this whole state tournament.”
It was a moment of triumph that was a far cry from the first half, which was marked by missed opportunities for Puyallup. Oyama had a clear opportunity in front of goal in the ninth minute, but his shot went just wide left. Then in the 21st minute, Puyallup’s Mattia Parlani stepped up to take a penalty kick for the Vikings, but sailed it just above the crossbar.
Two golden opportunities, and no goals. Mount Si seized the momentum shift and came back just three minutes later with a goal in the 25th minute, when Sullivan Smith slotted a shot into the right corner of the goal to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
But all postseason, Puyallup has been a second half team.
“All those things are momentum changes and difficult to deal with,” said Puyallup coach Matt White. “We kept giving a little ground and at halftime, we were like, ‘Guys, that’s not us. We’re not going to survive against a team of 6-foot-5 giants who are coming at us. We better go press them and put them under pressure.’ That’s what we do. We just needed to regroup, remember who we are.”
Puyallup’s equalizer came in the 52nd minute, when an Oyama ball floated awkwardly into the box and the Mount Si defender swung his leg and missed the ball. It fell right to Andrew Irby, who nudged the ball in with his knee into an empty net to tie the game.
“That was one of the easiest goals of the season in one of the hardest games we’ve played,” Irby said.
The finish might have been easy, but the way he got it was right in Irby’s wheelhouse.
“I’m normally at the right spot at the right time, that’s how I’ve scored the majority of my goals,” Irby said. “I’m not always good at taking someone on, but I’m where I’m supposed to be positionally, a lot of the time, so I was there to support if he was going to play it across.”
The game opened up from that point on, which favored the creativity and pace of Puyallup’s attack.
“I really had no doubt we would come back and win,” Oyama said. “We’ve been a second half team. I knew that teams can’t stay with us. We just stay with it the entire game and when teams get tired, we just keep on pushing. It was just chance after chance at the end. We just kept putting pressure on them.”
White has coached plenty of great Vikings teams over the years. With single elimination tournaments that are so heavily skewed toward matchups, travel, favorable seeding, etc., it can be hard to compare past teams to current ones. It’s why White views this title as a culmination of the Puyallup soccer program and the culture that has been created.
“None of that happens unless the kids think it’s a good place to play and a good experience to have,” White said. “So I guess it just validates everything that we’ve done. If we hadn’t won today, it doesn’t negate everything that we’ve done. But to me, it just says that we’re doing things right, the kids are having a great time.”