ARLINGTON — Austin Otis stood in the backfield and looked like he was back home.
The Lake Stevens junior running back, who converted to a wide receiver at the beginning of the season, had his position switched once again after an injury to the starter, and responded with 135 rushing yards and three touchdowns as he led the Vikings past Arlington 45-21 Friday night in a Wesco North 4A game at John C. Larson Stadium.
Brad Barry, the Vikings’ leading rusher, was out with a concussion. That injury opened the door for Otis, who rushed for two touchdowns in last week’s game against Mount Vernon.
Friday night he picked up right where he left off, looking like he never left the position.
“We found out (what we had) last week against Mount Vernon,” Lake Stevens head coach Tom Tri said. “We witnessed how quick he was at getting to the edge.”
The 135 rushing yards were a career-high for Otis.
“Coming into this I was pretty much second string,” Otis said. “I just got my shot and I went for it. This is just awesome.”
It was even sweeter that his breakout game came against rival Arlington.
“They’ve been our rival for however many years we’ve been playing for,” Otis said. “This is definitely a team that we look forward to playing. All week we’ve been talking about Arlington. We know how big the game is.”
The game was even bigger this year for the Vikings. A loss to Monroe had Lake Stevens (2-1 league, 4-2 overall) down in the standings, while the Eagles (2-1, 3-3) got two quick league wins. Tri said he stressed the importance of keeping pace with Arlington and the other teams in the Wesco 4A North.
“There’s a playoff game on the line,” Tri said. “I know it’s early, but tonight was as close to a must-win game in a regular season that you’ll have. … We have no more margin for error. We have to win all of our league games.”
Otis and fellow junior running back Tanner Krenz helped put Lake Stevens in a position to win Friday night. Krenz added 92 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He was the first, and last, Viking to score — each time with a 7-yard touchdown run.
“Our offensive line dominated tonight,” Tri said. “Our ability to run the ball was the difference in the ballgame.”
On the sidelines, Otis learned early on that this was going to be a little different than the first 41/2 games of his junior season.
“They kept putting me in and giving me the ball,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
He wasn’t keeping track of his stats on the field. Otis said he had just one goal while he was on the gridiron. “I try to go into the end zone as hard as I can,” he said.
Lake Stevens quarterback Gavin O’Neil was another difference maker. O’Neil, who ran 12 times for 30 yards, completed 18 of 29 passes for 256 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Gray on second-and-45, 10 seconds before halftime.
That gave the Vikings a 31-14 lead and all the momentum going into the second half.
“Gavin made some great decisions tonight,” Tri said. “He was taking what the defense was giving him. He ran the offense very efficiently.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Lake Stevens began to pull away in the fourth period. Otis and Krenz each ran for a touchdown in the final quarter to seal the Vikings’ victory, and keep their playoff hopes intact.
Arlington kept up with Lake Stevens early, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Skylor Elgarico. On Senior Night, Elgarico completed 12 of 32 attempts for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Following the Vikings’ first touchdown, Elgarico returned the ensuing kickoff to the Arlington 45-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, he threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Max Gray to tie the game.
Fellow senior John Decker ran the ball 12 times for 142 yards. On Arlington’s second scoring drive, Decker broke a 66-yard run on third-and-10, and followed that up with a 16-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Elgarico added 50 yards rushing on nine carries.
Despite the fact the Eagles rushed for almost 200 yards, Tri was proud of his defense for limiting an Arlington offense that has racked up big yards on the ground this season.
“We’re very happy with our ability to stop the run. That’s been the strength of our defense,” Tri said, noting the Vikings’ win over Marysville Pilchuck. “… We force teams to throw the ball.”
Tri said he hoped the win over Arlington builds some momentum for the Vikings as the end of the regular season approaches.
“This is a big week for us. We always pencil Arlington when their on the schedule,” Tri said. “… We talk every week about getting better. We can’t take a week off. We take it one practice at a time, trying to build momentum as we go toward the playoffs.
“We’ve got to continue to get better.”
At Arlington H.S.
LS–Tanner Krenz 7 run (Ignacio Ponce kick)
A–Max Gray 55 pass from Skylor Elgarico (Anthony Parra kick)
LS–Ponce FG 26
LS–Austin Otis 10 run (Ponce kick)
A–John Decker 16 run (Parra kick)
LS–Otis 4 run (Ponce kick)
LS–Tevin Gray 70 pass from Gavin O’Neil (Ponce kick)
LS–Otis 10 run (Ponce kick)
A–Elgarico 5 run (Parra kick)
LS–Krenz 7 run (Ponce kick)
Records–Lake Stevens 2-1 league, 4-2 overall. Arlington 2-1, 3-3.