BY KEVIN MANNING
Standing inches outside Mount Si’s penalty box and waiting to take a free kick in the 79th minute, Puyallup had a choice to make.
And they chose senior Logan Oyama when the game mattered most for the Vikings.
When it was all said and done, it was Puyallup outlasting Mount Si, 2-1, to capture their first WIAA Class 4A state championship after years of playoff futility.
“It feels great because this program has been around for a really long time. For us to be the first ones to do it (win a title), it feels really special,” Oyama said.
Two and a half blocks has never been so close, yet so far away for Puyallup (20-2-0) and head coach Matt White.
Just down 7th Street Southwest off of West Pioneer Avenue stands the two-block distance between Puyallup High School and Carl Sparks Stadium in downtown Puyallup, home of the Class 3A and 4A state semifinals and finals, but more importantly, the home of the Vikings soccer team.
“(The) No. 1 seed helped so we continued to play at home, so that was a huge one,” The Vikings head coach said. “We got to be home the whole way through.”
A place where Puyallup has dominated at over the past decade, including remaining undefeated at home this past season while outscoring opponents 49-3 heading into their finals meeting with KingCo League champs Mount Si (17-3-0).
“We have a really great mix of players this year, but we have a majority of seniors here who have been playing with each other for a long time,” Puyallup’s Andrew Irby said. “I think that really pushed us forward. We played for each other.”
(Photos by Vince Miller)
This year was different for Puyallup. These playoffs were unlike any in the past for a Vikings team used to capturing a high seed only to then hit the road and hope to be playing once games reached the semifinals and Sparks Stadium.
“There was never a doubt from us since the start of the season that we could do it,” Oyama said. “It was just our belief and our will to win.”
This year the South Puget Sound League champions did not have to think about where their stars aligned once the state playoffs began. For once Puyallup was gifted with the chance to have that dream scenario of playoffs at home.
One game after another Puyallup marched through a continued line of difficult opponents with one decisive win after another, starting with Mariner (4-1) in the opening round, then Inglemoor (4-1) in the quarterfinals last weekend.
The Vikings did not disappoint in their first semifinals appearance in 11 years as they dominated Wesco League champions Jackson (4-0) on Friday to reach their finals meeting with Mount Si.
“We always clicked on and off the field … weird fun, that’s what we call it,” senior goalie Brandon Limes said. “I think it’s why we’re able to fight for each other on the field for all 80 minutes.”
Puyallup controlled most of the first half action, creating chances against Wildcat goalie Colby Ramsey only for the sophomore keeper to save each attempt.
Before Puyallup knew what hit them, Mount Si jumped out to a 1-0 lead behind forward Sullivan Smith’s goal in the 27th minute.
A different Puyallup team came out in the second half, one with a different sense of motivation.
“We’ve done it before,” Irby said. “We’ve gone into halftime being down a goal knowing we could come out (on top).”
Puyallup leveled the game in the 53rd minute when junior forward Craig Johnson tackled loose a ball at midfield before connecting with Dane Helle on the outside. Helle dribbled right at Ramsey inside Mount Si’s box before trying to chip in a shot over the keepers head.
Ramsey was able to jump up and punch the ball straight up and at teammate Jake Jimenez in the middle of the box, but the Wildcats’ defenseman was unable to corral the ball with his chest as it bounced right into a charging Irby’s right knee four yards out for a game-tying goal, 1-1.
“Everyone is family. To do this with each other, to work together, to work hard for each other – it’s such a great feeling to just win,” Irby said.
Mount Si cracked under the pressure as two costly penalties, a yellow and a red card, were given to them in the game’s final minutes. It was the red that proved to be the heartbreaker as it set up Oyama’s game-winning and championship-clinching free kick.
After years of undefeated regular seasons, the dream finally came true for Puyallup boys soccer.
And Sparks Stadium never felt more like home.
“This is our dream since freshman year here,” Limes reminisced. “We’ve come out every day and practiced here for the past four years trying to get this title. It’s everything.”