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Game Preview: Lake Stevens (8-0) hosts Richland (7-2)
The undefeated Vikings host the Bombers at 5 pm in the WIAA State Playoffs Round of 16.
It wasn’t any of his four touchdowns (almost five) that broke the spirit of the Emerald Ridge Jags last Saturday at Lake Stevens Stadium.
Nope, the play on which Viking junior RB Jayden Limar snatched the Jags’ collective soul was a three yard sweep. And it was less the run, as opposed to the way it ended.
As Limar races towards the Jags sideline, he gets hemmed in… and it’s clear he won’t be able to turn the corner.
But when he reaches the sideline, he doesn’t dance out of bounds. He goes right at the chest of the nearest Jag defender, lances him in the chest with his free arm, rag dolls him to the ground, and briefly looks down at the damage he caused before politely stepping out of bounds. It was a grown man play.
I was standing on the Jags sideline rolling video, so I heard the sound of 60+ players exhaling a gut punch sigh at the same time. For all intents and purposes, the game was over at that exact second, and the Vikings raced to a 63-21 playoff win, after which they were assigned a #3 seed by the WIAA and granted another home playoff game, this time against the Richland Bombers out of the Tri-Cities (14 seed).
If the Vikings are to dispatch the Bombers today at 5 pm, at Lake Stevens Stadium, they’ll need another Herculean effort from their four star junior running back, whose workload has increased exponentially since the loss of senior All Wesco QB Grayson Murren.
Limar makes it look easy from afar with his gliding athleticism. Up close, a Limar run is often a searing collection of grunts, smacks, violent impacts and jarring broken tackles. Dude is strong. He’s also one hell of a leader: composed, confident, responsible, vocal when necessary. It’s no wonder why the most storied programs in college football are lined up requesting this man’s services.
And honestly, Limar may be the difference in this game. Because according to the Viking coaches, Richland matches up very, very well against Lake Stevens — especially considering the Vikings are making do without their senior captain QB.
Meet the Richland Bombers
First and foremost, Richland — like Lake Stevens — is a strong program. They aren’t in the midst of a one-off year. This is a decade of dominance for the Bombers, who dispatched Woodinville for a 4A State Title in 2017 - the program’s third. The Vikings, as well all know, are still in search of their first.
On offense, Richland runs a spread attack, often out of pistol formation, led by Honorable Mention all conference QB Cameron Kitchens (2,000 yards, 20 TD) and First Team All Conference RB Elijah Rodriguez, a 6’3 220 pound star who will join the Vikes’ Drew Carter at Eastern Washington University next year. More on Rodriguez in a moment.
The Wildcats have a pair of second team All Conference WRs in Seth Shook and Tanner Shuster. Both are intelligent, hard working, excellent blocking and sure handed players. The Bombers like to work the edges of the defense, rolling out their QB and even using their powerful back on repeated outside zone type speed runs. When throwing, they often clear out the underneath by sending a WR deep and working the crossing routes or Rodriguez leaking out of the backfield.
The Richland offense is far from prolific - in fact they’ve down right struggled to produce at times this season: they have four games in which they didn’t score more than 15 points.
On the other hand, the Richland defense has been nothing short of dominant, posting four shutouts and holding a very competent Central Valley squad to ten points in the playoffs last week.
The defense is led by the aforementioned EWU-bound Rodriguez, who functions as an OLB/DE, usually lining up opposite the offense’s right tackle. He is an aggressive, dominant and quick player who is constantly in the backfield and constantly disruptive. In order to win, the Vikings will have to neutralize Rodrigues — something that the Viking coaching staff is well aware of.
When the Vikings are on Offense
The Viking offense continues to be a work in progress, despite the fact that Tom Tri’s group scored a touchdown the first nine times they possessed the ball in a playoff game last week. So how the hell can we call it a work in progress? Because it’s true.
Against Kamiak, the Vikes started All Wesco QB Grayson Murren in their typical spread attack. Against Glacier Peak, Jayden Limar played QB on 85% of the snaps, attempting zero passes. Last week, the Vikings started a true freshman QB who isn’t even a Viking yet per se (Kolton Matson goes to Cavelero Mid High during the day). That said, the offense hasn’t missed a beat, in large part due to playmakers like Limar, Carter, Trayce Hanks and Jayshon Limar — but also thanks to an offensive line that allowed a total of zero sacks to starting QB Grayson Murren this season.
So what can we expect this week? More of the same - a constantly changing attack infused with some new faces. Put it this way: there will be points during today’s game in which the quarterback, running back and one of the wide receivers are true freshman who attend Cavelero Mid High.
That said, I expect freshman Kolton Matson to start at QB and take 90 percent of the snaps, with a little wildcat mixed in, possibly to neutralize the Bombers’ aggressive DE. And of course, we’ll see a heavy dose of the Limars.
When the Vikings are on Defense
On defense, the Vikings are relatively healthy. After inserting freshman Cassidy Bolong-Banks into the starting lineup, the defensive backs have been excellent. The Vikes are anchored by All Wesco linebacker Madison Wynkoop who may be one of the most under appreciated players in the conference, despite winning first team honors; the EWU-bound Drew Carter and the relentless sophomore defensive end Bryce Slezak.
In the end, this game will likely turn out like all the other games between closely-matched opponents: it’ll come down to turnovers and playmakers. If the Vikings win the turnover margin, they’ll win this game. If they get the type of effort we’ve come to expect from Jayden Limar, they’ll win this game.
We think the Vikings will win this game. Our prediction is a Viking win, 42-20.
Be sure to follow our Live Game Thread, with reporting and videos from the sideline. The Game Thread will go live at 4:30.
Notes: The winner of today’s game will face the sixth-seeded Gonzaga Prep Bullpups, who dispatched Moses Lake last night. The Bullpups are undefeated and winners of 16 straight with their run-heavy triple option attack. Should the Vikings win, they’d host G Prep next Saturday in Lake Stevens….Apparently, Richland is concerned about Lake Stevens too: yesterday, Viking assistant coaches spotted a stranger in Richland Bombers gear peering around practice. They approached him, he identified himself as a Bomber assistant coach, ostensibly doing a bit of logistical recon (locating the stadium, checking out parking, etc) and then he left. The more cynical among us might surmise that he was trying to get a peak at Viking practice, Bill Belicheck style. We have no proof that that’s the case. I’m just sayin….