For Mike Bush and the Kentwood football program, it was familiar territory.
An emotional win for a first-year coach coming home and another divisional title for the Conquerors.
Brian Campbell threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more as Kentwood took down Kent-Meridian 28-7 to secure the South Puget Sound League 4A Northeast Division title at French Field last Friday night.
It was the fourth consecutive divisional title – the 13th in program history – for the playoff-bound Conquerors (3-0 in league, 6-1 overall). Kentwood has won six straight games since its season-opening loss to Curtis.
The Royals (2-2, 3-4) remain alive for a playoff spot but will need some help to get in.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said an elated Bush, Conks coach and K-M graduate who went on to play collegiately at Washington State. “This is my alma mater. I was excited to come here and play them. It almost felt like coming full circle. It’s an amazing feeling to win an SPSL title versus a school that I once attended.”
Connor Benson, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, produced big plays for the Conquerors, catching a TD pass, returning a kickoff 74 yards to set up another score and intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter.
Benson’s big plays on the receiving end of Campbell’s long passes set up Kentwood scoring chances.
“We went out there and got it done,” Benson said. “Brian put the ball in a perfect spot for me.
“I’m just glad it happened tonight in this special moment to be SPSL (Northeast Division) champs. I’m just proud of my team.”
Lightning-quick Isaiah Williams also shone, running for 158 yards and snagging a TD pass. He also pulled in two interceptions for the Conks.
Kentwood shut down the mistake-prone Royals, intercepting quarterback Ben Woods four times and containing his big target, Emmanual Daigbe.
“Our defensive staff had a great game plan on how to stop him and slow him down,” Bush said of Daigbe, one of the area’s coveted recruits. “He’s an amazing receiver. I commend him on the plays he did make. It was our focus to slow him down.”
Both teams struggled in the first half. Campbell and Woods each threw two interceptions and each team missed a field goal.
“We got off to a slow start because Kent-Meridian is a good football team. Coach (Brett) Allen has his school are doing great things,” Bush said. “We just had to refocus. We just calmed down, and we just played one play at a time. By doing that, we were successful, and we were able to put some drives together.”
The Conks got on the board first, producing a 12-play, 94-yard drive capped by Campbell’s 5-yard scoring flip to Williams with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
Kentwood went up 14-0 after Benson returned the opening second-half kickoff 74 yards to the Royals’ 11. K-M forced Kentwood into a field goal but roughed the kicker, allowing the Conks’ offense to return to the field with a fresh set of downs from the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Campbell raced around left end to score from the 3 with 9:30 to go in the third quarter.
The Royals drove to the Conks’ 17-yard line but the drive stalled, giving the ball up on downs.
Campbell’s 14-yard TD run with 4:29 left in the third quarter widen Kentwood’s lead to 21-0.
Campbell later found Benson on a swing pass and the wideout took it 62 yards to the end zone with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
Kent-Meridian avoided a shutout when Gabriel Gallman scored on a 13-yard run with 6:39 left in the game.
The Royals moved the ball but were unable to score early and often.
“When we blow those (scoring) opportunities it sort of gets into our heads,” Allen said. “Some mental miscues cost us from converting on some of those (chances).
“The second half was all mental miscues,” Allen added. “We just didn’t take advantage of what they were giving up by doubling, bracketing him.
“We’re still in the hunt but we have some work to do.”
Kentwood completes the regular season against Kentlake this Friday. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at French Field.
Kent-Meridian hosts Mount Rainier in a non-divisional game at 7 p.m. Thursday at French Field.
The district playoffs are scheduled for Nov. 6-7.
Kentwood coach Mike Bush is all smiles after his team’s division-clinching win. Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter