Small steps, bigger picture.
Justin Callander is encouraged by what he sees. His Kent-Meridian football team improved, having won more games this season than it did in the past two years combined.
Yet it could have been sweeter.
Mount Rainier jumped on the slow-starting Royals, opening a three-touchdown halftime lead before cruising to a 38-14 North Puget Sound League Sound Division victory at Highline Stadium in Burien last Friday night.
The outcome left the Rams, not the Royals, with the division’s second and last berth to next week’s NPSL division crossover playoffs. Mount Rainier (3-1 division, 3-5 overall) plays at Kentwood (3-5) of the NPSL Mountain Division on Friday in a loser-out playoff game at French Field.
K-M, which dropped to 2-2 and 3-5, plays at Nathan Hale of Seattle (4-4) in a nonleague game Thursday.
“We’re building,” said Callander, the Royals’ first-year head coach who previously spent four seasons as a K-M assistant and a year on Tahoma’s staff before returning to lead the program. “We have a foundation, so we just have to start pushing through and getting there. Next year, I hope we win the Sound Division and make a run in the playoffs. It’s a very, very real possibility.”
But the Royals will have to do it without Isaac Cordova, a senior quarterback and safety, who will leave the program with several school passing records, including a remarkable a 595-yard, eight-touchdown-toss performance against Kentridge on Oct. 4.
“Good season, but we just came up short,” Cordova summed up.
Cordova threw two more TDs on Friday, but it wasn’t enough. At times, he was able to throw but was under heavy pressure and frequently sacked. His customary connections to his swift wide receivers were jammed by the Rams’ secondary.
For the game, Cordova completed 19 of 34 passes for 220 yards. Nate Jones caught seven passes for 91 yards.
“Our offense didn’t show up to play,” Callander said. “The (early) 5 o’clcok start … the kids weren’t mentally ready to play. We had kids late. We tried to prepare as much as we could, but it just didn’t happen.”
Jayden Tamburellli threw three touchdown passes and Jeremiah Johnson broke loose on a 69-yard, zigzag scoring run for the Rams.
K-M tied the game on Cordova’s 13-yard scoring flip to Bruce Laumea with 8:18 to play in the first quarter. The Rams, however, quickly regained the lead on Johnson’s long run a minute later.
Cordova’s second TD pass, a quick, 9-yard strike to senior wide receiver Jordan Wigfall, who juggled the catch, made it 31-14 with 1:03 left in the third quarter.
Mount Rainier added a TD early in the fourth quarter, then controlled the ball and the clock.
In defeat, Callander praised his team’s effort.
“They definitely fought. I’m proud of them,” he said. “I hate to see the seniors go.”