It was an action-packed and drama-filled week of high school football in Snohomish County.
With its standout quarterback sidelined by injury, Lake Stevens switched up its offense and beat Glacier Peak in a back-and-forth top-10 showdown for the Wesco 4A title. Monroe flipped the script and beat Ferndale in the Wesco 3A championship game, which avenged its season-opening loss to the Golden Eagles. And Granite Falls is headed to the state playoffs for the first time in 31 years after riding its defense to a one-point win over South Whidbey.
The Herald’s sportswriters break down the action with three takeaways from the Week 9 slate:
Minus its standout QB, Lake Stevens finds a way to continue its Wesco 4A reign
For most teams, playing without their standout quarterback in a de facto league championship game against a state-ranked opponent would be a challenge too great to overcome. But once again, Lake Stevens showed that it’s not like most teams. With a switch to a Wildcat rushing attack and a massive performance by star running back-turned-Wildcat-quarterback Jayden Limar, the Class 4A second-ranked Vikings prevailed for a 34-28 win over eighth-ranked Glacier Peak in last Friday night’s de facto Wesco 4A title game. With the victory, Lake Stevens captured its eighth consecutive Wesco 4A crown and extended its conference win streak to 50 games.
It was the first game for the Vikings (7-0, 4-0 Wesco 4A) without starting senior quarterback Grayson Murren, who has a fractured leg, according to coach Tom Tri. Murren had been highly efficient in Lake Stevens’ juggernaut attack this season, completing 73.1% of his passes for 1,291 yards, 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Sophomore backup Kaden LaPlaunt, who had attempted just four passes all year, started in place of Murren. But after LaPlaunt threw an interception on the Vikings’ first possession, they switched to a Wildcat package and ran that for most of the night. That meant Limar was taking snaps from the shotgun at the quarterback position, with his talented younger brother, freshman Jayshon Limar, lined up next up next to him at running back. Another player, usually speedy senior receiver Trayce Hanks, often ran horizontally across the formation in motion as the ball was being snapped. That gave Lake Stevens three top-tier rushing options — Jayden Limar, Jayshon Limar or Hanks — on most plays.
The Vikings rushed for 307 yards on 51 carries, led by Jayden Limar’s 204 yards on 26 attempts. And they did so despite having only practiced their Wildcat package for a few days. Tri said he and his coaching staff decided to install the Wildcat the previous Sunday, after finding out Murren would be sidelined. But Jayden Limar, an ultra-talented four-star junior running back, was at Notre Dame on a recruiting visit that weekend. He was supposed to be back for that Monday’s practice, but his flight got delayed. “We had to wait until Tuesday before we could even really start putting this package together,” Tri said. “So we only had about three days. … We ran plays (Friday night) that we didn’t even practice before, just because we didn’t have enough versatility in our Wildcat package. I mean, you can only run the same play so many times. But we realized that (Jayden) was our best quarterback and that they were struggling to stop it. And so I was making stuff up on the fly, literally, and yelling it and screaming it.”
Jayden Limar, who has scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, also scored on a 50-yard screen pass and finished with 254 yards from scrimmage. “We asked Jayden to play literally three different positions (on offense),” Tri said. “… I’m just dumbfounded by his versatility.” Hanks, who moved from running back to receiver this season, added 94 yards from scrimmage and three TDs on 10 offensive touches — with most of his damage coming on fly sweeps. And Jayshon Limar chipped in 57 yards and a TD on 10 carries. “We wanted to keep the ball in Jayden’s hands and let our leaders be leaders, and that’s exactly what they did,” Tri said. “… And I’ve gotta give credit to our O-line. That whole front five just did an amazing job.”
The question now is whether Lake Stevens will continue with the Wildcat as its primary mode of attack. And if so, can the Vikings replicate Friday night’s offensive success in the postseason? Although Glacier Peak coach Shane Keck said his team prepared for the possibility of facing the Wildcat, the Vikings had the benefit of there being no prior film of them using that formation. Future opponents, however, will have the luxury of being able to study what Lake Stevens did and make adjustments. Of course, Tri and the Vikings will have time to add some wrinkles and make adjustments, too. There’s also the possibility of Lake Stevens using LaPlaunt and its traditional spread offense more often than it did last Friday. LaPlaunt had a mixed performance in an incredibly high-pressure starting debut, with two TD passes and two interceptions on eight pass attempts. LaPlaunt’s availability could be in question, though, after taking a hard hit to his upper body in the fourth quarter. He was tended to on the field by coaches and trainers for several moments before exiting the game, and didn’t play another snap.
Either way, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Vikings approach things offensively going forward. They open the postseason with a Week 10 winner-to-state playoff game against Emerald Ridge on Saturday, with a chance to earn their seventh consecutive 4A state playoff berth. “We’ve got this,” Jayden Limar said. “I know our team. We can pull it off no matter what.”
— Cameron Van Til
Monroe appears to be peaking at the right time after avenging loss to Ferndale
Monroe certainly seems to be peaking at the right time. After opening the season with a pair of blowout losses to 3A ninth-ranked Ferndale and 4A eighth-ranked Glacier Peak, the Bearcats have won six of their past seven games. And their most recent triumph appears to indicate just how much they’ve improved since Week 1. Monroe avenged its season-opening loss to Ferndale on Saturday, prevailing for a 29-27 win over the Golden Eagles in the Wesco 3A championship game.
In the teams’ season-opening matchup, the Bearcats fell behind early and trailed by 32 points in the second half of a 55-35 loss. Monroe’s defense had no answer for Ferndale’s Wing-T attack that day, as the Golden Eagles scored 55 points through the first three quarters and finished with 565 total yards. But it was a much different story in Saturday’s rematch. The Bearcats (6-3) never trailed and did a much better job on defense, holding Ferndale to 27 points and 369 total yards.
Do-everything two-way senior standout Cole Pruett had another big game for Monroe, catching five passes for 119 yards and two TDs. Evan Leggett, who was the backup on Saturday in the Bearcats’ two-quarterback system, threw a pair of long TD passes on trick plays as a receiver. And with the Golden Eagles threatening for a go-ahead score in the final minute of regulation, Moi Emmsley came up with a red-zone interception to seal the victory for Monroe.
The Bearcats now turn their attention to a Week 10 winner-to-state matchup against Lakes. With a win, Monroe would advance to the state playoffs for just the third time in the past 30 seasons. The Bearcats, who moved down to 3A following the 2019 season, reached the 4A state playoffs in 2016 and 2017.
— Cameron Van Til
Friday night was a truly historic moment for Granite Falls
For 31 straight years, the Tigers were relegated to looking forward to next season when the state playoffs came around. That won’t be the case this year as Granite Falls clinched its first state berth since 1990 by virtue of finishing second in the Emerald Sound Conference with a 13-12 win over South Whidbey. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game. The Tigers (6-2, 3-1 league) fumbled the ball away twice, missed a chance at an interception that would’ve ended an eventual touchdown drive and allowed a momentum-shifting play on special teams that cost them their first lead late in the second quarter. But they got it done on defense with an especially stout second half that saw them allow just 18 yards on 23 plays. That gave the offense enough time to put together a 40-yard scoring drive that ended with a go-ahead TD run by quarterback Riley Hoople in the fourth quarter. For the players it was another sign that they’ve taken a step forward when it comes to facing adversity in tight games. “The culture at Granite Falls has been that we just give up when things like that happen,” senior two-way lineman Sam Morrison said. “But this year we’re changing that. I think we can go far.”
As a 2010 Granite Falls graduate myself, I have to admit that it was pretty special to watch that happen live. I remember going in to each season when the school was a member of the Cascade Conference knowing that we’d most likely play second fiddle to Archbishop Murphy at best, and that the chances of getting a winnable district playoff game to get to state were going to be slim with powerhouses like Lynden as potential matchups. The school was 2A then but dropped down to 1A in 2018. Moving down a classification ended up being pretty crucial for this state berth to happen. Granite Falls moved to the all-1A North Sound Conference in 2018, which merged with the Emerald City League to form the Emerald Sound Conference in 2020. That meant the North Sound Conference teams would move from District 1 to District 2 and take two state berths with them that would normally be up for grabs in district playoff games against the perennially strong 1A teams in the Northwest Conference. Regardless of what the path was then and is now, a state berth should undoubtedly create some excitement around the program.
The Tigers will likely be in for a tough matchup in the first round of the state playoffs next week. We won’t know the seeding and matchups until Sunday, but chances are Granite Falls will end up traveling to face one of the top five teams in 1A. The Tigers are 6-2, but a 42-0 loss to King’s in their toughest game this season isn’t likely to win over many members of the seeding committee. Their season-opening 20-19 win over state qualifier East Jefferson, the Nisqually League champions, should help keep them from getting paired with defending state champion Royal.
— Zac Hereth