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STATE CHAMPS AT LAST — VIKINGS BEAT KENNEDY CATHOLIC 24-22
Game Recap: A gritty Lake Stevens defense holds the Lancers to just 235 yards of offense as a determined Jayden Limar rushes for 207 yards in final game as a Viking
MT. TAHOMA STADIUM, TACOMA, WA — The Lake Stevens Vikings are State Football Champs at last!
After fielding several title-contending teams over the decades since the WIAA Playoffs began in 1973, Lake finally edged over the finish line with a heart-pounding 24-22 win over Kennedy Catholic in last Saturday's epic tilt at Mt. Tahoma High School south of Tacoma.
As the finalists prepared for the 5:00 pm kick, Mt. Rainier (initially visible in all its glory) faded from pink to black as darkness settled in around the stadium -- and the Lake Stevens grandstand filled to the edges, jam-packed with a couple thousand enthusiastic hometown supporters.
The temperature hovered near 30 and a bone-chilling wind began to howl as the whistle blew and the Vikings kicked off to Kennedy Catholic.
And thus began a back-and-forth classic which wasn't settled until the very end. At first, it looked like Lake might be in line for one-sided win.
Kennedy Catholic took the opening kickoff and quarterback Devon Forehand hit Xe'Ree Alexander for a 13-yard gain but three plays later Lake's Bryce Slezak batted down Forehand's pass at the line of scrimmage and the ball ricocheted into the arms of Ashten Hendrickson for an interception on the KC 45.
Seven plays later, Lake was in the end zone, a drive initiated by quarterback Kolton Matson's 12-yard pass to Cassidy Bolong-Banks followed by six straight Jayden Limar carries, culminating in a one-yard TD (his 36th rushing and 41st total touchdown of the season).
7-0 Lake, following Macray Flanders' PAT kick, at 7:22 of the first quarter.
KC's next possession was a three-and-out-punt as Joe McGinnis, Naveer Kaile and Mason Turner nailed Isaac Syph for a two-yard loss on first down followed by two straight Forehand incompletions.
Viking coverage of the Lancers' vaunted passing attack was a major key to Lake's win, its deep defenders sticking to Lancer receivers, batting down and preventing what otherwise would have been several long receptions.
Paul Varela's 16-yard punt return put Lake back in business at the KC 39. Varela's significant punt returns gave Lake decent field position throughout the game.
But Lake couldn't take advantage this time.
After two first downs, including Matson's 13-yard pass to Isaac Redford, Lake was forced to punt from the 36 when Matson was sacked for a one-yard loss on third down.
KC took over on its own 13 and went 58 yards in 12 plays to the Viking 29 where the drive ended on downs thanks to a stop of Alexander for no gain by Turner and McGinnis…combined with two Forehand incompletions — one of them a breakup of a deep pass by Redford — and another caused by a McGinnis QB hurry.
Forehand, a diminutive Sophomore passer who’d carved up Emerald Ridge for 331 yards and five touchdowns in the semifinals, was so harassed by Lake's line and linebackers that he was replaced before halftime, surrendering the job to Senior Payton Faker.
The next Viking drive started with a 19-yard Limar run but ended three plays later when Alexander sacked Matson for a nine-yard loss, Flanders punting to the KC 23 at 7:30 before halftime.
After the Viking D held once again, Varela's 12-yard punt return put the Vikings in Kennedy Catholic territory, starting at the 46. Matson was sacked for a 15-yard loss by Mason Hayes, who knocked the ball out of Matson's hands and out of bounds, resulting in a deep loss and setting up a seemingly-hopeless third and 18, into the teeth of a strengthening wind.
Jayden Limar, however, was unfazed, uncorking a signature scrambling 21-yard run — in which Limar ran left initially and was met with heavy traffic in the backfield, forcing the Viking’s star back to pivot and reverse direction before streaking across the width of the field and turning upfield at the sideline, gaining the necessary yardage to move the chains to the KC 36.
Tri called Limar’s number again — something he’d do 33 times on the night, a career high for Jayden —and Lake gained 11 yards behind the Limar rush.
The next play proved both disastrous and controversial for the Vikings. Under heavy pressure, Matson attempted to unload a pass as he was sacked by Hayes. Incomplete pass or fumble?
Either way the ball was jarred loose, ruled live, and KC’s Alexander scooped-and-scored, speeding 64 yards untouched for the TD.
Hayes' PAT kick tied it at 7-7, at 4:16 of the second half.
As has been the case all season, Lake rebounded with a TD of its own.
The drive covered 80 yards in 10 plays, starting with Matson completions of 20 and 14 yards respectively, to Bolong-Banks and Redford.
Five Limar carries netted 30 yards to the KC 16, where Matson tossed to Redford for a TD and a 14-7 Viking lead 1:25 before halftime.
But the half did not end well for Lake.
After the kickoff was out of bounds for KC possession on its own 35, Lancer replacement QB Faker completed three straight passes, 29 and five yards t5o Hayes and finally 31 yards to Maclane Watkins for a TD. Alexander then ran for the 2-point conversion which gave KC a 15-14 lead, 38 seconds left in the half.
Lake received the second half kickoff and both teams proceeded to go three-and-out. On its second possession of the half Lake threatened to retake the lead when, after Varela's 14-yard punt return to the LS 32, Matson completions of seven yards to Redford and 26 yards to Bolong-Banks each produced first downs, B-B's reception seeing him break numerous tackles to the KC 25.
Matson then hit Cole Becker for an 11-yard gain and a first down on the 14. But another sack of Matson by Alexander, this one for a 10-yard loss on third down, necessitated a 37-yard field goal try which blocked, giving KC possession on its own 35 at 4:31 of the third quarter.
As was the case all game long, Lake D then forced another three-and-out, key stop of that series was a tackle of Syph by Hendrickson and Gage Solomon for a two-yard loss.
Varela's 26-yard punt return set the stage for Lake's third TD, five plays and 49 yards later, on 23-yard Matson passes, the first to Redford, the second a TD to Becker who made a brilliant catch-and-run around the left side of the KC defense 20-15 Lake, five seconds before the end of the third quarter.
KC did take that 22-21 lead on an 80-yard, seven play drive at 10:32 of the fourth, spearheaded by Faker's 53-yard pass to Syph and Alexander's one-yard TD run and Hayes' PAT kick.
Lake gained just one yard on its next possession after losing the lead, but after punting, the defense stepped up yet again. With a long-awaited, passionately-desired championship on the line, Lake’s battle-tested defenders rose to the challenge yet again. Avery, Hendrickson and Kaile crushed Syph for a three-yard loss, then David Brown broke up potential Faker bomb on consecutive plays. KC surrendered possession back to Lake, returning the ball at the 50 with 8:34 left.
Lake then hunkered down to launch what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Limar (who else?) set off the rally with a 25-yard run, followed by three, then four-yard gains.
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After a Matson third down incompletion Lake faced fourth-and-three on the KC 18. With the season at stake, KC then committed only its second penalty of the game, another five-yarder, an encroachment infraction cleverly drawn from the defense via designed play fake that set Limar in pre-snap motion and fooled KC into thinking the snap would occur as Limar motioned past the center. The false start elicited cheers from the staff, a fist pump from Limar and gave Lake a first down on the 13.
Limar ran for four yards, Matson was downed for a one-yard loss and Matson's pass to Redford gained six yards… setting up a crucial fourth-and-one, trailing by a point in the title game with minutes to play. For a second straight time the season teetered on the edge.
Enter Flanders for a 22-yard field goal try, nearly the exact length of kick that Flanders faced as a freshman with a playoff win versus Mt. Si in the balance. As a freshman, Flanders missed. As a senior, Flanders was a champion. Shaking off his earlier blocked attempt, he launched this one squarely between the uprights. 24-22 Vikings, 5:13 left.
And yet an eternity of football time remained.
Lake was up to the task. Consecutive sacks of Faker of nine and eight yards, shared by Turner and Slezak on the first one, McGinnis and Redford on the second, the latter almost for a safety. KC forced to punt with 3:24 left.
It wasn't over yet. Lake received the punt on the KC 35 but somehow Limar fumbled on Lake's first play, negating what would have possibly been a game-cinching first down, Dante Saldino recovering for KC on its own 17. Three minutes left.
Faker kept his team's faint hopes alive with a pair of desperation completions, nine yards to Watkins and 16 yards to Hayes, the latter for a first down on the 50.
Three straight Faker incompletions finally ended the game for KC, Steven Lee Jr. breaking up one, Faker badly overthrowing his last attempt..
Lake took over at 1:53, Limar polishing off the victory with four carries totaling 20 yards and Matson kneeling down three straight times as the clock hit zero.
And as that clock hit zero the Viking sidelines exploded and the middle of the field became a mass of sheer joy between players, coaches, and many alums (former Viking football players especially) as the State Championship trophy was presented, and the team rushed to the Viking stands to salute the fans who so enthusiastically and loyally support the team.
Jayden Limar completed the Lake Stevens all-time record for rushing yards in a season, his 202 net yards in 33 carries vs. KC bringing his season total to 2040 yards, the first Viking ever to reach the magical 2000 yard season total. He's heading to Notre Dame next year holding many all-time Viking offensive standards. Many of us who previously disliked Notre Dame may now become Irish fans.
The Viking’s Sophomore quarterback Kolton Matson, who improved his game steadily throughout the season, completed 14 of 25 passes (no interceptions) for 182 yards and two TDs despite being subjected to the heaviest pressure (five sacks by the Lancers' headhunters) he has faced all season.
KC's two quarterbacks went 15 of 34 (one interception) for 218 yards and one TD.
Lake had 185 net yards rushing in 47 carries and one TD, KC 20 carries for 17 net yards and 2 TDs.
Redford's six catches totaled 79 yards including one TD, Bolong-Banks three catches for 58 yards, Becker two catches for 34 Yards including one TD.
Viking joy of victory was contrasted with Lancer pain of defeat (Lake can empathize having been there before itself). As Lake celebrated at midfield we saw two Kennedy Catholic linemen hugging each other on the sidelines, sobbing their guts out.
Personal note: I was privileged to ride the varsity team bus back to LS which was one big crazy-happy joy ride, featuring Jayden and his teammates conducting a loud, beautiful rap concert at the back of the bus (somebody sign them up for an album!) as the big round brass state champions trophy was passed around from man to man. When the bus arrived back home its horn was blasting and the sirens and alarms and flashing lights of the police escort were celebrating as the bus made a ten-mile victory lap around our beautiful lake with Christmas lights twinkling all along the homes lining the shore. When the bus arrived at the high school it was greeted by at least a hundred fans and parents and student body who had waited in the cold to cheer the team. - Mike Anderton