It’s a heavyweight showdown of unbeatens.
And a clash between a pair of perennial state powers that haven’t lost in two years.
Lake Stevens has won 14 consecutive games since a heartbreaking defeat to Mount Si in the 2019 Class 4A state quarterfinals. Gonzaga Prep also is riding a 14-game win streak, with its last loss coming to Graham-Kapowsin in the first round of that same year’s 4A state playoffs.
Something has to give Saturday night, when the two undefeated title contenders square off in Lake Stevens in a highly anticipated 4A state quarterfinal.
Here’s a preview of the matchup:
No. 6 GONZAGA PREP at No. 3 LAKE STEVENS
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Lake Stevens H.S.
Radio: KRKO 1380 AM
Implications: The winner will travel to face either No. 2 Eastlake or No. 7 Sumner in the 4A state semifinals.
Record: 10-0 overall, 7-0 Greater Spokane League 4A/3A
Playoff path: beat Chiawana 34-14 in winner-to-state round; beat No. 11 Moses Lake 56-7 in state first round
State history: Gonzaga Prep is in the 4A state quarterfinals for the sixth time in the past nine full-length seasons. The Bullpups won the 4A state title in 2015, which was their program’s third state championship.
Season recap: Led by its powerful triple-option attack and dominant defense, unbeaten Gonzaga Prep has won all but one game by at least 20 points. The Bullpups’ lone single-digit contest was a 28-20 victory over 3A state quarterfinalist and league rival Mt. Spokane in their regular-season finale, which gave Gonzaga Prep the outright Greater Spokane League 4A/3A title. The Bullpups have cruised to playoff routs the past two weeks, rolling past Chiawana in the winner-to-state round and Moses Lake in their state opener. Gonzaga Prep has yet to play a team from the western side of the state this season.
Offense: With its high-powered triple-option attack, Gonzaga Prep averages 44.3 points per game and has scored at least 34 points in all but one contest. The Bullpups churn out 333 yards rushing per game, while averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per carry. The centerpiece is third-year starting quarterback Ryan McKenna, the son of head coach David McKenna. Ryan McKenna, a senior, has accounted for 1,911 total yards and 28 offensive touchdowns. He has rushed for 1,436 yards and 19 TDs, with an average of 8.9 yards per carry. He has completed 63.3% of his passes for 475 yards, nine TDs and one interception. And last week, he even returned a kickoff for a score. Sophomore running back Matteo Saccomanno is the top ball carrier behind Ryan McKenna, with 675 yards rushing and nine TDs.
Defense: Gonzaga Prep has been perhaps even more dominant on defense. The Bullpups allow just 9.2 points and 207 total yards per game, including an average of just 4.3 points through the first three quarters of their contests. They haven’t allowed more than 21 points all season and they’ve yielded more than 300 yards only once. They’ve stymied passing attacks, limiting opponents to a 50.5 completion percentage, eight TD passes and 18 interceptions. That includes seven interceptions over the past two weeks in their playoff wins over Chiawana and Moses Lake. And they’ve been stout against the run, surrendering just 3.6 yards per carry. Gonzaga Prep has a three-star edge defender in senior Kaz Melzer, who has an offer from Air Force.
Record: 9-0 overall, 4-0 Wesco 4A
Playoff path: beat Emerald Ridge 63-21 in winner-to-state round; beat No. 14 Richland 52-7 in state first round
State history: Lake Stevens is making its fifth 4A state quarterfinal appearance in the past six full-length seasons. With a victory, the Vikings would reach the state semifinals for the third time in that span.
Season recap: After its first two games were canceled, Lake Stevens opened the season with a 20-3 win over perennial power and 3A state quarterfinalist O’Dea in Week 3. From there, the Vikings cruised to blowout victories until Week 8, when they prevailed for a tense 35-28 win over upstart Kamiak. However, standout senior quarterback Grayson Murren suffered a leg fracture in that game. Without Murren, Lake Stevens pivoted to a Wildcat rushing attack the next week and beat league rival Glacier Peak 34-28 to claim its eighth consecutive Wesco 4A title. Then after freshman quarterback Kolton Matson returned from a season-long injury the following week, the Vikings went back to their normal spread offense. In the two games since his return, Lake Stevens rode efficient performances from Matson and a strong rushing attack to playoff routs of Emerald Ridge and Richland.
Offense: Standout senior quarterback Grayson Murren is slated to start Saturday for the first time since suffering a leg fracture in Week 8, according to head coach Tom Tri. Murren, who was sidelined for Weeks 9 and 10, eased his way back with a few snaps in last week’s state opener. The high-scoring Vikings still put up big offensive numbers the past three weeks without Murren, but his full return is certainly a boost. “He’s healthy and ready to go,” Tri said. “… He’s gonna be our guy.” Murren has completed 71.6% of his passes for 1,291 yards, 18 TDs and three interceptions this season, while spreading the ball to the Vikings’ talented playmakers. Four-star junior running back Jayden Limar — who has offers from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas A&M — averages 8.3 yards per carry and has 1,276 yards rushing, 320 yards receiving and 19 offensive TDs. Senior wideout Drew Carter, an Eastern Washington commit, has 855 yards receiving and 13 TD catches. And versatile senior receiver Trayce Hanks has 483 yards receiving, 450 yards rushing, 12 offensive TDs and three TD returns on special teams. Lake Stevens averages 48.9 points per game and has scored at least 34 points in all but one contest.
Defense: The Vikings allow 13.3 points per game and haven’t surrendered more than 28 points all season. They have limited opponents to just 249 total yards per game, 4.8 yards per play and 3.1 yards per carry. Their most impressive performance came in their delayed season opener, when they held O’Dea and its powerful rushing attack to just three points. Standout two-way seniors Trayce Hanks and Drew Carter anchor the secondary. Hanks has three interceptions, while Carter has three sacks and one interception. Senior linebacker Madison Wynkoop, the team’s leading tackler, has 16 tackles for loss. And senior defensive lineman Dylan Slezak is a force up front, with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Gonzaga Prep’s triple-option attack vs. Lake Stevens’ defense: Gonzaga Prep’s triple-option attack is a major challenge for teams to face, in large part due to how uncommon the offense is at the 4A level. Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said he thinks the last time his program faced the triple option was in 2013 and 2014, when Newport handed the Vikings a pair of playoff losses in back-to-back years. “It’s been a long time,” Tri said. “You don’t see this style of run game very often. … We’re gonna have to be really disciplined on defense.” Whether it’s the Wing-T or the triple-option, it’s always a bit of a mystery how a defense will fare against a deceptive, run-heavy attack like Gonzaga Prep’s. That makes this matchup arguably the most intriguing aspect of this game — and perhaps the biggest determining factor in the outcome.
Lake Stevens 38, Gonzaga Prep 24
— Cameron Van Til, Herald writer
Lake Stevens 35, Gonzaga Prep 20
— Zac Hereth, Herald writer
Lake Stevens 31, Gonzaga Prep 28
— Steve Willits, Prep Sports Weekly co-host
Lake Stevens 24, Gonzaga Prep 20
— Tom Lafferty, KRKO Radio