MARYSVILLE — The Marysville Pilchuck Tomahawks have one of the most dynamic running backs in the state in junior Austin Joyner, but they have plenty of other players who are capable of producing out of the backfield.
Friday night, it was JJ Valencia’s turn.
The junior running back rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries to lead the Tomahawks to a 37-24 victory over Lake Stevens.
“There was great blocking up front,” Valencia said. “We emphasized that a lot this week.
Lake Stevens held Joyner in check for nearly two quarters before he busted a 48-yard run just before halftime. He finished the first half with 64 yards on six carries and the game with 152 yards on 13 carries.
While 152 yards is a great game for most players, not many teams are able to hold Joyner to that low of a total — and that only benefited Valencia.
“Whenever I get the ball, I just want to run hard and get the pressure off of Austin,” Valencia said. “That way he can be deadly and I can just help him out and support him.”
Having multiple running backs who can produce the way Joyner and Valencia can is certainly a blessing for Tomahawks head coach Brandon Carson.
“We knew going into the season that a lot of people were going to key on Austin and they did a good job containing him in the first half …,” Carson said. “It really opens up the other stuff that we do. Obviously, JJ had a nice game tonight and I was real impressed with how (quarterback) Jake Luton threw the ball, too, and I thought our defense did a nice job defending the pass.”
Luton finished the game 6-for-15 for 112 yards and a 32-yard touchdown pass to Brayden Hopstad.
While Luton didn’t throw the ball much, his passing was enough to keep the Vikings’ defense off-balance.
Lake Stevens, meanwhile, struggled with its passing game. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason, who was the victim of multiple dropped passes in the first half, finished the game 8-for-30 for 184 yards and three interceptions.
“Obviously, we didn’t have a very good passing game tonight,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “We struggled with our offensive-line protection, receivers dropped balls and guys didn’t run very good routes.”
It hasn’t been an easy beginning of the season for the Vikings, who lost 24-20 a week ago to defending 3A Wesco South champion Glacier Peak and followed that with Friday’s loss to the defending 3A Wesco North champions. It doesn’t get any easier for Lake Stevens, which has one final non-league tune up — next Friday against undefeated Oak Harbor — before opening league play on the road against last year’s Wesco 4A North champion, Monroe.
“We’re young,” Tri said. “We’re going to take our lumps for a while until we figure it out.”
While the Vikings were unable to get the passing game going, senior running back Austin Otis was a workhorse, running the ball 27 times for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tomahawks led 16-10 at halftime before Otis opened the second half scoring with a 68-yard touchdown run. Ignacio Ponce’s extra-point gave Lake Stevens its first lead of the game.
But it didn’t last long.
Marysville Pilchuck drove 80 yards in five plays and converted a two-point conversion to regain the lead at 24-17. Senior running back Deion Stell added a 46-yard touchdown run before the end of the third quarter to give the Tommies a 31-17 lead going into the final stanza.
Each team added a touchdown in the final quarter, with Marysville Pilchuck’s extra-point getting blocked to make up the final margin.
The Tomahawks have opened the season with back-to-back victories over 4A North opponents and have two more non-league games before opening up their conference schedule against Marysville Getchell on Oct. 4.
So far, Carson has liked what he has seen.
“Offensively, I’m happy with where we’re at,” he said. “Defensively, we’ve got a little bit of work to do, but we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Quil Ceda Stadium
Lake Stevens 0 10 7 7 — 24
M. Pilchuck 7 9 15 6 — 37
MP—JJ Valencia 29 run (Ryan Spiva kick)
LS—Ignacio Ponce 17 FG
MP—Brayden Hopstad 32 pass from Jake Luton (kick blocked)
LS—Austin Otis 2 run (Ponce kick)
MP—Spiva 32 FG
LS—Otis 68 run (Ponce kick)
MP—Valencia 33 run (Hunter Trueax pass from Luton)
MP—Deion Stell 46 run (Spiva kick)
MP—Valencia 8 run (kick blocked)
LS—Andrew Grimes 3 run (Ponce kick)
Records—Lake Stevens 0-2, Marysville Pilchuck 2-0