The Greater Puget Sound Youth Football League began its new season on Aug. 17, and with it came the optimism of a championship season for local squads. Both the Upper Tacoma Youth Association Tigers and the North East Tacoma Tigers showed some good things on both sides of the ball as they squared off in five back-to-back contests at Stadium Bowl, broken up by age group.
“This is our fourth year of running the (North East Tigers) program and we’re growing rapidly with our five programs,” said Martin Sanelli, who is the president of the North East Tigers. “We have 102 kids total on our five teams, which is up tremendously over the past couple of years.”
The Upper Tacoma Youth Association Tigers – from the Hilltop area – is a young program in its second year, and coach Zeke Nelson likes his team’s chances as the program develops. “We had some real growing pains last year,” he said, “but our numbers are up significantly this year to go along with some really talented skill position players.”
Those results showed early for UTYA in a 12-0 win in the fourth-grade game, as Emauri Riley and John Nelson scored touchdowns for the Tigers. North East came back in the fifth-grade game, with the help of Reid Shumpert’s three touchdowns, for a win to even the score at one game apiece.
“Our current roster is made up of 85 percent of players who have played in North East football the last three years, and their football smarts at this age are pretty incredible,” said fifth-grade coach Tony Shumpert. “We have high hopes of making the playoffs and going far, too.”
While both Sanelli and Shumpert talk of the increase of numbers and talent on this year’s teams, there’s also another factor the kids can’t help talking about – playing at historic Stadium Bowl. “They just can’t get enough of the surroundings,” Tony Shumpert said. “And adding to that is the fact that 75 percent of these kids we have will be playing with Stadium (High School) in the near future.”
Reid Shumpert may be one such player, as his scoring ability on the day shows strong potential for the future.
“Their (UTYA) outside contain wasn’t very good and we took full advantage of it,” Reid Shumpert said. “One of the things that we want to get better at is getting all of our snaps off without penalties.”
While continuity is a big part of any team’s success, Sanelli talked about another important factor. “Our coaching staff has been together for three straight years, as we continue to implement new players and new coaching concepts into our system. We’ll see how it works as the season plays itself out.”
By Steve Mullen
HORNETS, RAIDERS TAKE TURNS DOMINATING
The A&R Central Hornets and Parkland Raiders took their turns controlling the games at Lincoln Bowl on Aug. 17, as strong rushing performances and stout defenses led to impressive shutouts.
The second- and third-grade teams – a new addition to the GPSYFL this season in order to introduce the game at a younger age – traded scoring drives throughout, with the Hornets emerging with a 19-13 victory.
The fourth-grade Hornets continued that momentum, coming up with some big defensive stops in the first half and earning a 13-0 victory over the Raiders. The offensive star of the day was running back Joemil Bigham, who had runs of 35 and 58 yards on the day, tallied over 150 total rushing yards and helped clinch the win with a one-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Dai’Shaun Nichols had gotten the Hornets on the board with a five-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter, moments after teammate Marquis Tremble came up with a tackle for loss on fourth down on the Raiders’ 10-yard line. Tremble later added a key interception for his squad. Both squads struggled with turnovers in the first half, but it was key fourth-down stops inside the red zone that helped gain momentum for the Hornets early in the contest.
But the Raiders got revenge in a big way in the fifth-grade contest, cruising to a 39-0 victory behind three rushing touchdowns from quarterback Angel Sanchez III. Parkland got on the board on a seven-yard score from Jay Gray on fourth down early in the first, and Sanchez’s 50-yard score on a sweep to the right made it 13-0 on the next drive. Sanchez added another short score in the second and Gray scored from 30 yards out to make it 25-0 at the half.
Hornets quarterback Joziah Nixon tried to keep his squad in the game with several nice runs in the third quarter, but the Raiders were too much, as Sanchez had a 39-yard score in the third quarter and C.J. Whitson, Jr. closed it out with a 15-yard score in the fourth.
The Raiders got a hard-fought 7-0 win over the White River Raptors – filling in for A&R Central – in the sixth-grade game, as Dennis Yevchev scored on a 78-yard reverse on Parkland’s first play to provide the only score. That came after the Raiders recovered a fumble at their own 22-yard line on White River’s opening drive. The Raiders’ defense was key all game, as Jeremiah Noaese and Mateo Champion anchored a stout defensive line and Mitchell Skordal made key tackles at linebacker.
The seventh-grade Hornets later scored a 14-0 win over Parkland, as Elijah Smith-Johnson set the tone by racing for a 53-yard touchdown on A&R Central’s first play. Smith-Johnson finished with 102 yards rushing, and quarterback Emanuel Brown added 75 rushing yards and a score to help lead the way. Jonoah Thomas and Isaiah Bradley controlled the interior for the Raiders’ defense, coming up with key tackles for loss and limiting the Raiders to five first downs.
The Hornets later cruised to a 24-0 win in the eighth-grade contest, as Quinn Spalding rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns to spark the offense, and Kavon Holden added 85 rushing yards and a score. Quarterback Isaiah Burr-Taylor connected with Drew Bonds for the Raiders’ other touchdown, and Cerion Hardeman led the Hornets’ defense with 10 tackles and an interception.
By Jeremy Helling