Kentwood was dangerous, not desperate.
Behind big plays and a strong ground game, the Conquerors broke into the win column Thursday night, stopping Auburn Riverside 49-27 in a North Puget Sound League Mountain Division game at French Field.
Kentwood, looking to avoid its first losing season in the storied football program’s 37-year history, pulled away in the second half to beat the injury-riddled Ravens (3-2) and snap a four-game losing streak. Kentwood has beaten Auburn Riverside in all nine meetings.
“There was pressure, so it’s nice to end the streak,” said a relieved Wyatt Hansen, the Conks’ 6-foot-4, 258-pound junior tackle. “We put everything together.”
Sophomore quarterback Jalin Church ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns – on 56- and 58-yard keepers – and threw for two more. Wide-out Dyllon Daniels returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score and caught a TD pass for the Conks. Running back Gabriel Johnson broke loose on a 54-yard score, the game’s first touchdown, and unofficially finished with 166 mostly punishing yards rushing the ball.
“We wanted it,” said Church, who unofficially ran for 152 yards. “We’re coming together.”
Things came apart for the Ravens, a team undone by injuries to key players, penalties and mistakes.
Among those dinged up was star running back and safety Javon Forward, who hobbled off the field early in the third quarter and didn’t return. Forward rushed for 189 yards and two TDs before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
Highly recruited defensive end Justus Legg was resting an injury and didn’t play.
“We had injuries that just took over for us. We were already down three or four players,” said Ravens coach Marcus Yzaguirre. “The kids were fighting it. It’s tough when you’re short-handed a little bit with injuries.
“We played a good Kentwood team. They’re very well coached. They came out and stepped it up. They wanted to win.”
Auburn Riverside played Kentwood evenly early on. Jayden Solis’ 29-yard run got the Ravens on the scoreboard, but the kick for the conversion sailed wide.
Daniels then scored on the ensuing kickoff, but Forward followed with a 20-yard scoring run early in the second quarter.
Kentwood took a 21-13 halftime lead on an eight-play scoring drive in the final minutes. From 35 yards out, Church found Alphonse Oywak, who split two defenders and landed in the end zone with the ball as the clock expired.
Forward vaulted up the middle for a 73-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, but was stopped short on the run for two points.
Kentwood quickly responded when Church hit Daniels on a short pass that the junior speedster turned into a 52-yard scoring play.
Auburn Riverside then drove to the Kentwood 30, but fumbled the quarterback-to-running back exchange and Fredrick Rodgers III recovered for the Conks.
The Conquerors capitalized with a drive that ended with Lole Tapasa’s 1-yard dive for a 35-14 lead at 5:53 of the third quarter.
The Ravens stormed back. Henry Igwala scored on a 16-yard dash and converted the two-point run, closing the gap to 35-27 with 2:30 to go in the third quarter.
But Kentwood put the game out of reach on Church’s two TD runs in the final period.
The Conquerors, a relatively young bunch, hope to carry the momentum to undefeated Enumclaw next week.
“We’re just trying to build it and get better every game,” said coach Mike Bush. “This team has dealt with adversity and resiliency. They’re leaning in. Most teams lean out and starting talking, ‘it’s his fault, it’s the coach’s fault.’ But this group has pulled together, supported each other and been there for each other. We’ve had some guys drop off and stopped playing, but, for the most part, everybody has leaned in.
“It’s focus and discipline. These are the things we lacked the first four games,” Bush added. “Now we’re just going to Enumclaw and put our best foot forward.”
For the Ravens, there is little time to rest and recover. A short week brings them back home for a game against Tahoma (2-3) next Thursday.
“Hopefully, we’ll heal up,” Yzaguirre said. “We get to go home, make adjustments, clean some things up and be ready.”