Standing on the Pop Keeney Stadium turf during the postgame exhilaration of his team’s state semifinal win over Woodinville last Saturday night, Lake Stevens football coach Tom Tri looked down at his phone.
Tri had received a text from Union coach Rory Rosenbach, a good friend whose Titans had beaten Puyallup in the other state semifinal earlier that afternoon. Rosenbach and his coaching staff had been watching the Lake Stevens game on a live stream, getting a head start on their title-game opponent.
“He was just showing me that they were preparing for us already, trying to get a one-up on it,” Tri said with a laugh. “Couldn’t even celebrate for five minutes … and I’ve already got Rory in my grill. Kudos to him. I probably would’ve done the same thing.”
When top-seeded Union (13-0) and third-seeded Lake Stevens (13-0) square off in the Class 4A state championship game Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome, two good friends will be roaming opposite sidelines and aiming to guide their teams to a first-ever official state title.
“There’s nobody else I’d rather play (against) for this game, honestly,” Rosenbach said. “I got fortunate enough to have a lot of friends in this profession, but I think our teams getting to share a field this Saturday is pretty special.”
The coaches’ friendship stems from Rosenbach’s time as head coach at Glacier Peak, beginning with the school’s inaugural season in 2008. Rosenbach, a 1994 Snohomish High School graduate who played tight end at the Air Force Academy and the University of Oregon, coached the Grizzlies for eight seasons before heading south to Vancouver to take the Union job in 2016.
Rosenbach’s first year at Glacier Peak coincided with Tri switching Lake Stevens’ offense from the run-heavy I-formation to a spread attack. Rosenbach had run a spread offense as the head coach at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Ore., where he guided the Spartans to state titles in 2005 and 2007.
“(With Rory) having run that offense for a few years (prior) to me, I relied on him an awful lot,” said Tri, who began coaching with the Lake Stevens program in 1998 before taking over as head coach in 2005.
“Going into that first season (with a spread offense), we met a few times in the summer, and I just picked his brain about plays he liked and why, and how to set them up. And that’s kind of where that friendship blossomed.”
During Rosenbach’s time at Glacier Peak, the two coaches squared off in four non-league contests. Tri won their first matchup in 2008, when Lake Stevens beat the Grizzlies in Rosenbach’s second game at the helm. But Rosenbach and Glacier Peak returned the favor, defeating Tri’s Vikings in 2009, 2012 and 2013.
“We were able to beat them (that) first game, and that didn’t make him very happy,” Tri said with a smile. “And he’s gotten me a couple times since.”
Even with the frequent matchups against each other, the coaches often met to discuss football and share ideas.
“We always liked getting together and just talking football and how we run our plays and how we try to disguise them,” Tri said.
Over the years, the two coaches developed a friendship that grew beyond football and remains strong today, even with them separated by about 200 miles.
Tri said they still talk at least once a month and typically get together a couple of times a year, sometimes with their wives too. Their teams also usually attend the same summer camp, which provides another opportunity to catch up.
“We’ll spend a couple hours a night (at camp) just hanging out and talking football and talking about family,” Tri said.
Over the past few days, the coaches already have exchanged a couple of phone calls. Tri said their conversations have been heavy on banter — and perhaps a few joking attempts to extract game-plan information.
“We just kind of try to keep one-upping each other every chance we can,” Tri said with a smile. “So a phone call at 1 in the morning asking what defense they’re running — that kind of stuff might or might not have happened already.”
“We both like to give each other a hard time, and that makes it for a lot more fun,” Rosenbach said. “Any time I can get under Tom’s skin, I’m going to do it. And I know he feels the exact same way.”
With both Lake Stevens and Union operating high-scoring spread attacks that lean toward the run, the similarities between their offenses figure to be on full display Saturday night.
“They’re very similar to us,” Tri said. “They have a quarterback that can run it, and they want to run the ball first. They’re going to (do) misdirection and they’re going to throw the deep ball, the screens and the underneath stuff just like we do. … Even though some of the plays are a little bit different, the strategy is very similar.”
“Honestly, it’s like looking in the mirror,” Rosenbach said.
With so much familiarity between the two coaches and their offenses, the championship game figures to be a fascinating chess match between Tri and Rosenbach.
“Both of us are going to have a couple of tweaks … to make sure that we’re not giving away what we’re doing,” Tri said.
And for both coaches, the opportunity to help their program claim a first-ever state crown certainly resonates.
“I owe it to my community, to the people here in Lake Stevens and to this Viking football family to make sure that we do everything in our power to go win that game,” Tri said.
“It’s pretty exciting for these kids,” Rosenbach said of playing for the state title. “They’ve worked their tails off. … I’m just so grateful for our community, for our coaches and for our kids for how hard they’ve worked. It’s pretty special.”
Tri vs. Rosenbach
Tom Tri and Rory Rosenbach squared off four times as head coaches when the latter was at Glacier Peak. Here are the results of those four matchups.
2008: Lake Stevens 35-21
2009: Glacier Peak 27-10
2012: Glacier Peak 42-31
2013: Glacier Peak 24-20