Monroe, Lake Stevens square off in big 4A North test

League titles aren’t won in the fourth week of the football season.

But that doesn’t mean early season contests don’t count.

Last year, Monroe defeated Lake Stevens 9-7 in both team’s Wesco 4A North opener. That game ended up being the difference in the standings giving the Bearcats the league title and a spot in the Wesco 4A Championship game when the regular season was done.

Will tonight’s Lake Stevens-Monroe game, also the Wesco 4A North opener for both teams, have similar implications?

“I think it’s big,” Monroe head coach Dick Abrams said. “You can always say you can win the rest of them, but getting that first (league) win helps with the confidence for the kids and helps you as you prepare for the next opponent. It was a big win for us (last year).”

Lake Stevens head coach Tom Tri feels the same way.

“It’s extremely important, especially when you only have five teams in your league,” Tri said. “Whether it’s the first one or last one, it’s very important. Last year, it turned out to be the Wesco North Championship game, which we thought it could have been. This year could be the same. It’s the first game, but it could be for the Wesco 4A North Championship.”

The coaches aren’t sure if the game will be another defensive battle, or feature a bit more offense this time around.

“It’s tough to predict,” Tri said. “This year’s a lot different than last year. We’re just trying to figure out ways to be consistent and not make mental mistakes. We’re certainly trying to find a way to score and I think we’re capable of putting up some points.”

What the game’s tenor might be is tough to gauge in advance, Abrams agreed.

“You just go with the flow and if it’s one of those games where there’s not a lot of scoring that’s fine,” he said. “Hopefully, we can stay tight with them. They’re a good team.”

Both teams are coming off their first wins of the season. Monroe took care of Mariner 25-18 and Lake Stevens edged Oak Harbor 14-13, and both are hoping to capitalize on the momentum that comes from getting that first victory.

And the coaches agreed that getting that first win is huge for their respective teams’ confidence.

“Mentally, it gets you over the hump,” Tri said. “It tells you that if you do work hard and try to improve each week in practice — at least for the kids and as young as we are — it was like, ‘Hey. We actually get to celebrate on a Friday night after we play,’ instead of leaving disappointed.”

The first league game also is big, Tri and Abrams said. With just four conference games over the course of the season, every North game is important and both teams are looking to get their league schedules off to a good start.

“We’re excited. It’s a big game,” Abrams said. “Non-conference you can go, ‘Oh, they don’t count.’ But now they count.”

Both teams feature several new players this season, while also returning key components from last year’s squad. Tri said the Vikings have discussed last year’s game in practice this week as they look to improve on last year’s result.

“We certainly have brought it up, but at the same time this is a different group and this is a different year and a different circumstance,” Tri said. “That was last year and this is a new year and right now both teams are 0-0. And Snohomish is 0-0, and Arlington is 0-0 and Mount Vernon is 0-0 and we’re all trying to find a way to win the Wesco North.”

Monroe hasn’t discussed last year’s game a whole lot, Abrams said, also noting it’s a new year and “a different group of kids.” The coach added that if Monroe is going to be victorious again, the Bearcats have to harness Lake Stevens’ offense.

“We have to take away the big play from them,” Abrams said. “They’re good at the big play. They have a lot of talented kids.”’

This year’s contest also shifts fields, as the team’s will play at Monroe. Lake Stevens hopes to do what the Bearcats did last season, win a road game at a tough, loud location.

“We’re going to play at Monroe and we know what kind of environment that is,” Tri said. “It’s a tough place to go down and play. They’ve got a rowdy, loud stadium. Their fans are great for them and everywhere you look is black and orange. For opposing teams it can be a bit daunting.”

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