Neighborhood pride is important to a Kent-Meridian High football program that has played in the shadow of its rival in recent seasons.
Just ask coach Brett Allen, whose big-play Royals overcame Auburn 41-36 last Friday night to retain the Taylor Trophy.
“It’s a pretty big deal ever since we got competitive again the last couple of years,” Allen said as his jubilant players hoisted the storied trophy after their last-minute win at Auburn Memorial Stadium. “The games have been good so the rivalry has been re-energized a little bit.
“To be able to walk around with your chest out a little bit has been good,” he said. “It’s great for our community, it’s huge for our school and for our kids, our seniors especially, to be able to win it two years in a row.”
Kent-Meridian had endured a 15-game losing streak to Auburn in the state’s second-oldest series before snapping that skid with a 42-39 overtime win at French Field last year.
The Royals (1-1) overcame another drama in the rivalry last week, evening the series, which began in 1908, at 50-50 with six ties.
Behind a quick-strike offense and Shamar Malik Woolery’s powerful running, the Royals are poised to compete in the South Puget Sound League Northeast 4A race.
Not too many folks are talking about the Royals and their playoff chances this fall.
“They definitely should be,” said junior quarterback Ben Woods. “We beat an unbelievably good Auburn team.”
Woods passed for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Emmanual Daigbe from 56 and 69 yards out.
Woolery, a jitterbug of a running back, did his part, rushing for 90 yards and a personal-best four TDs. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound senior blasted up the middle from 25 yards out with 57.3 seconds left in the game as the Royals survived a penalty-marred, nonleague affair.
Woolery overcame cramps, bumps and bruises to give the Royals’ spread offense some ground support. He also scored earlier from 6, 17 and 33 yards out.
“You can’t go down as a running back. That’s your job … to stay up,” he said of taking the pounding.
Allen said of Woolery: “Pound for pound, he’s our strongest player.”
Auburn (0-2) had taken a 36-35 lead on Caden Borden’s 23-yard field goal with 1:31 left in the game before the Royals countered quickly, with Woods directing the show.
Woods found Woolery for one reception that covered 26 yards to Auburn’s 40-yard line. He then hit Daigbe for 14 yards to the 25. On the next play, Woolery vaulted up the middle to score the game-winning TD.
“I believe in Ben. We were never worried,” Woolery said of the late drive. “These guys, right here? We’ve been working all summer,” he said of the Royals’ no-quit demeanor. “No matter what, we pull through. When we get tired, when we get hurt, we keep pushing through because that’s what we’ve been doing all summer in preparing for this.”
Woods had good protection to deliver from the pocket.
“I have to give my teammates the credit,” he said. “You don’t understand how easy it is when you have so much time (to throw) … to sit there and pick people apart.”
Daigbe, a big target, finished with seven catches for 215 yards. He also came up with the game-ending interception.
Auburn’s playmaker shone.
Malik Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, ran for one score and caught another. Quarterback Justin Ioimo ran for 120 yards and two TDs.
“We just ran out of time,” said Auburn coach Gordon Elliott. “(K-M’s) a very good team. It’s tough to outscore that kind of team because they have weapons. We got into that kind of match with them. Normally, that’s not our style of football. Our style is to keep the ball away from them and pound the ball and move the ball. We got into a situation where we had to outscore them. We almost got it done.”
K-M, which travels to Federal Way to take on Todd Beamer on Friday, has room to grow before beginning league play.
“It’s a tough division. If we can stay healthy and keep improving each week … we can win our division,” Allen said.