Lake Stevens’ Jaxson Lewis (8) runs past a Kamiakin defender during a Class 4A state semifinal game on Nov. 25 in Lake Stevens. The Vikings face Graham-Kapowsin for the state championship Saturday at Husky Stadium. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Jaxson Lewis (8) runs past a Kamiakin defender during a Class 4A state semifinal game on Nov. 25 in Lake Stevens. The Vikings face Graham-Kapowsin for the state championship Saturday at Husky Stadium. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Another state title well within reach for surging Lake Stevens

The Vikings head into Saturday’s championship clash riding a string of dominant performances.

LAKE STEVENS — Lake Stevens embraced a set of lofty goals and expectations this season.

Number one on the list: defending its first-ever state football championship.

As they gear up for the Class 4A state title game against first-seeded Graham-Kapowsin (13-0) on Saturday at Husky Stadium, the second-seeded Vikings are in a healthy position to bring home a second straight championship trophy.

The progression Lake Stevens showcased over the course of the season has been particularly evident in recent weeks, as the Vikings have run through each round of the postseason with a dominant string of victories.

Lake Stevens (12-1) has outscored opponents 187-28 since the Week 10 playoffs, and credit is due all around for the feat.

Longtime head coach Tom Tri pointed to the offensive line as one of the key reasons the Vikings have performed at such an elite level.

“We’ve had huge improvement,” Tri said. “I thought we were a good offensive line back in September, but I’ve seen a steady improvement there. We only returned one guy (Bryce Slezak), so we had four other guys that really had to learn their spots and the nuances of line play, angles and speed. … We’ve thrown a lot at those offensive linemen.”

The improvement has shown on scoreboard. Early in the year, Lake Stevens played multiple state-caliber teams, and the results were much closer.

After their lone loss in Week 4 against Oregon 6A powerhouse West Linn, and a pair of one-possession victories against Bellevue (Week 2) and Eastlake (Week 6), the Vikings learned from those moments.

“For me, it was halftime during the Bellevue game,” Tri said. “We were down 28-7 at halftime, and the coaches really challenged the kids about executing a bit better and just playing harder. There were definitely some tense moments in the locker room at the half, but I really haven’t questioned our effort or our execution since that Bellevue game.”

Lake Stevens went on to engineer a massive second-half comeback to beat Bellevue, which is playing for the 3A state championship Friday.

With star junior signal-caller Kolton Matson heading the Lake Stevens offense, the Vikings’ deep receiving corps and running back tandem have all gotten chances to shine.

Senior Talha Rai has been a welcomed bright spot in the backfield, especially when starting junior Jayshon Limar missed four weeks in the middle of the season due to injury. The duo has hit their stride together and formed into a deadly one-two punch.

“In year’s past, we’ve been a one-back offense,” Tri said. “This year, with as much motion and no huddles that we’ve ran, our running back can get tired. We’ve had the luxury of rotating those guys (and) keeping them fresh has really helped us.”

Rai has compiled 672 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing, while Limar has added 876 yards with 11 TDs.

“With the tempo that we have, Jayshon can go in like thunder and I come in like lightning,” Rai said. “It really messes teams up and confuses the defense a bit.”

In last week’s 48-7 semifinal win over Kamiakin, Limar was in full form as he collected two rushing and two receiving touchdowns. Rai also ran for a score.

“Double weapon right there,” Limar said. “We can both go in and out, he takes a drive, I take a drive. It kinda helps because we’re both different style backs, but were both very effective.”

Defensively, the Vikings are finely tuned. Since relinquishing three touchdowns in their 35-27 victory over Eastlake in Week 6, the Lake Stevens starting unit hasn’t allowed a touchdown since.

Senior defensive back and captain Gabe Kylany has noticed the improvement.

“The chemistry has been built more and more as the season has gone on,” Kylany said. “ … After about Week 5, we’ve all been in sync with each other. … I would say during the Eastlake game is when we figured it out, we’ve almost been perfect since that game.”

Seniors Gage Solomon and Mason Turner, along with junior Keagan Howard, have all recorded 100-plus tackles on the year. Two-way standout David Brown has six interceptions, returning two back for touchdowns.

Kylany, who’s set to compete in his third state title game, is ready for the challenge of playing at Husky Stadium for more hardware.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be (in the title game) every season,” he said. “It’s a little familiar for me because we’re fortunate enough at Lake Stevens to get there three times in a row. It’s kinda crazy. … It’s almost too much to be playing in December every time. Our bodies hurt, but we just go through it and we know what to do.”

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