The Cascade Conference championship game tonight will be similar to last year, but at the same time, very different.
Once again it will be King’s and Lakewood competing for the title — although both teams lost many seniors from last year’s 55-42 King’s win, and feature lots of new faces.
“Both programs were thought to be in rebuilding years yet we’re playing for a league championship again,” King’s head coach Jim Shapiro said. “… Two great teams that graduated a bunch of great kids from last year. For Lakewood it’s the same storyline.”
Gone from King’s is Brigham Young quarterback Billy Green, Yale offensive lineman Mason Friedline and Washington defensive back Caleb Taylor. Lakewood is without Central Washington receiver/running back/quarterback Justin Peterson, as well as all-conference selections Brandon Stott and Donovan Evans.
However, both teams have found ways to continue their success. They enter their final game of the regular season with 5-0 records in Cascade Conference play.
“It’s really exciting. I’m so proud of the players on this team,” Lakewood coach Dan Teeter said. “We did graduate virtually everybody from the starting offense last year. We returned a few more on defense, but I don’t think the expectations for us from outside the program were very high. I’m proud of these guys.”
Lakewood (8-0 overall) is ranked No. 5 in the most recent Associated Press 2A state poll. King’s (7-1), ranked No. 8 in 1A, has won seven in a row after a close 14-6 loss to Lynden — the No. 2-ranked team in 2A — to start the season.
And success isn’t the only thing that’s remained constant this year. Both teams still do what they’ve always done on offense — they just have different players doing it.
“Neither team’s system has changed a whole lot,” Shapiro said. “They’re still spreading the ball out, we’re still trying to establish the run.”
King’s returned some help in that department. Senior linemen Donavan Ishmael and Zach Jacobson have helped bolster the Knights’ offensive line, which senior running back Chris Yand has used to rush for 667 yards and nine touchdowns.
The rushing game has taken some pressure off King’s new quarterback, sophomore Koa Wilkins. Wilkins has completed 83 of 140 passes for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I think that’s the unique nature of this team,” Shapiro said. “I don’t say this tongue-in-cheek, I truly mean it. It’s truly been a team effort.”
Lakewood is led by junior quarterback Blake Watts. Watts is third in the conference — behind Wilkins and South Whidbey’s Nick French — with 947 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. He’s also rushed 119 times for 663 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Their quarterback is obviously a very talented kid,” Shapiro said.
One big difference in this year’s contest will be the venue. Lakewood will be the home team this time around, which gives the Cougars a definite advantage.
“Our fans at Lakewood are phenomenal,” Teeter said. “They pack the place. They get loud. The students are wild. It’s definitely an advantage for us to be at home. I think we haven’t lost at home since the playoffs in 2010 against Burlington.”
For both teams, there is more on the line than simply the conference title.
“From our perspective, league titles are great, but for us it is more about the momentum you carry into the playoffs,” Shapiro said.
“To have a playoff environment, a championship environment, sets the exact tone we want going forward for us.”
King’s vs. Lakewood
When: Today, 7 p.m. | Where: Dick Cardinal Stadium
What’s at stake: Not much besides bragging rights. Both teams have already sewn up No. 1 seeds in their respective district tournaments.