The Kent-Meridian football team was down four starters, including its top running back and receiver entering the game, and lost Gabriel Gallman in the first half with a leg injury.
But Royals coach Brett Allen pointed to Kentwood’s staunch defense as the catalyst for the Conquerors 38-7 South Puget Sound League Northeast-clinching victory Friday at French Field. Not his lack of key players.
“That defense is one of the nastiest in the state,” Allen said. “Give (coach) Rex Norris and that Kentwood defense a lot of credit.
The Conquerors have now taken or shared the league title three consecutive years and four of the past five thanks to that defense.
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And Kaleb Swain.
Swain had a fumble recovery and two of the Conks’ five interceptions – including one ran back 51 yards for a touchdown. Kentwood also had safety and allowed just the one touchdown as its defense lowered its points-against-per-game total to 7.2.
“We just have a bunch of young guys, we all work hard and we are a family,” Swain said, who also had a 24-yard TD reception. “I love my team, that’s all I can say. We do what we do.”
The Royals had miscues. And the Conquerors had a heyday.
Kent-Meridian punted after a three-and-out on its first drive, but a penalty forced the Royals to redo the final down. Kentwood’s Josiah Bronson then busted through the line and got a hand on the next try, setting the Conks up at the Kent-Meridian 33.
Kentwood settled for Andre Slyter’s 36-yard field goal, but Kent-Meridian gave the ball right back its first play of the next drive on a backward pass recovered by Kaleb Swain.
Three plays later, Brian Campbell scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1.
More damage. Kent-Meridian went three-and-out again, and Kentwood took a 17-0 lead four plays later on Isaiah William’s 32-yard run on fourth-and-2. Kent-Meridian had forced fourth-and-16 on a sack, but a 15-yard hit-to-the-helmet penalty set up the TD run.
It finally subsided. Kent-Meridian scored on Gabriel Gallman’s 38-yard touchdown run. But Tanner Heinz later dropped Royals punter Tristan Ingold in the end zone for a safety. And Slyter’s 26-yard field goal with 15 second left before halftime gave Kentwood a 22-7 lead.
Swain’s then had his 24-yard touchdown reception on third-and-20 and returned Ben Woods’ fourth interception of the game 51 yards for another score on Kent-Meridian’s ensuing possession to put Kentwood ahead 35-7 in the fourth.
Woods finished 11 of 24 for 107 yards a week after throwing for 440 yards and 5 touchdowns in a victory against Tahoma.
“Getting turnovers is key to our success,” said Kentwood coach Rex Norris. “Tonight, we kept them one-dimensional. Injuries worked against them, too, and we were able to take advantage.”
Kent-Meridian was hoping for its first league title since 1991, but was without top receiver Emmanuel Daigbe (fractured rib), running back Shamar Malik Woolery (team violation) and two other starters.
“One of our goals was to win a league championship. We lost that one,” Allen said. “But we still want to make a run in the playoffs. We still want to get to the Tacoma Dome … we have to come out with our knuckles up.”