SNOHOMISH — The Glacier Peak High School football team stayed perfect against its crosstown rival.
But for a preseason Class 4A top-10 team with state playoff aspirations, the Grizzlies know they need to play much better than they did in Friday night’s season opener.
No. 9-ranked Glacier Peak earned its 10th consecutive win over Snohomish, but looked sloppy at times during a 35-19 victory in the annual non-league rivalry game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I thought that was as bad of football as I’ve ever been a part of, honestly,” Grizzlies coach Shane Keck said. “A lack of execution, turnovers, penalties. We were really bad tonight, honestly.”
Glacier Peak improved to 10-0 against the Panthers since the crosstown rivalry began in 2012. The Grizzlies have won eight of the 10 matchups by double digits.
But with a showdown against 4A state powerhouse Woodinville looming in less than two weeks, this appeared to be a bit of a wakeup call for Glacier Peak.
After racing to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Grizzlies (1-0) squandered opportunities to pull away and let the Panthers hang around. They had five trips inside the Snohomish 30-yard line in which they came away scoreless, including a goal-line stand by the Panthers on the 1-yard line.
Though two-time defending Wesco 3A South champion Snohomish (0-1) is a quality program, Glacier Peak knows it can’t afford to come up empty-handed in those types of situations if it wants to challenge perennial power Lake Stevens in Wesco 4A and other elite 4A teams when the postseason comes around.
“It’s definitely a high and a low at the same time,” Grizzlies senior linebacker Michael Fant said. “I mean, (we beat) our big rivals 10 years in a row, but at the same time played nowhere near what we were expecting to play when we came out here on the field today.”
Three of Glacier Peak’s five touchdowns came on possessions that began inside the Snohomish 25-yard line. Another came on a broken coverage by the Panthers.
Aside from that, the Grizzlies struggled to move the ball for much of the night. They were outgained 391-333 in total yardage — a number that certainly wasn’t helped by back-to-back bad snaps on their opening series that pushed them into a fourth-and-54 situation.
“We just didn’t execute,” Keck said. “We turned the ball over. I don’t know how many penalties — we might’ve had 10 or 12. We didn’t score down here in the red zone, which is the most important thing we can do. It was just ugly football.”
Glacier Peak junior quarterback River Lien, who finished second in the underclassman division of the Northwest 9 Showcase quarterback competition this summer, had an up-and-down starting debut. He finished 18-of-27 passing for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“River did some good things,” Keck said. “He also showed being a first-year starter (and) made some mistakes. But he’s got a bright future. He’s gonna work his tail off, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Early on, it looked like the Grizzlies might be on track for a running-clock rout.
Glacier Peak’s defense came up with a pair of early turnovers, with an interception return by Reggie Valmonte and a fumble recovery off a botched Snohomish handoff. Running backs Ryan King and Trey Leckner cashed in with short touchdown runs to give the Grizzlies a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Glacier Peak struck again on the opening play of the second quarter, when receiver Logan Szarzec got past the defense on a blown coverage and hauled in a pass from Lien for an 89-yard catch-and-run score to make it 21-0.
Then after mounting a long drive on their next possession, the Grizzlies were on the verge of blowing things wide open. However, the Panthers came up with a goal-line stand to keep things from getting out of hand.
“We left some opportunities on the table early (and) made a couple mistakes, and they took advantage of it,” Snohomish coach Joey Hammer said. “That’s a good football team. But we didn’t give up.”
The Panthers got on the board in the waning seconds of the first half with a spectacular catch by receiver Wyatt Doran. Despite slipping and falling during his route, he still managed to haul in the pass while on the turf for a 1-yard TD reception.
Near the midway point of the third quarter, Snohomish made it a one-possession game with another impressive catch. Kyden Gaffney made a leaping grab over a defender to corral a 39-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Kale Hammer, cutting the margin to 21-13.
“We battled,” Joey Hammer said. “I thought we showed a ton of grit, a ton of character tonight. … We were resilient. Our kids had character until the end.”
After the Panthers made it a one-score game, Glacier Peak responded with its best drive of the night. Lien kickstarted it with back-to-back completions and Leckner did the rest, rattling off gains of 10 and 12 yards before plowing into the end zone from short yardage to push the lead to 28-13.
The Grizzlies took advantage of another Snohomish gaffe later in the third quarter, recovering a muffed punt just outside the red zone. King ran in a short TD a few plays later to extend the margin to 35-13.
In the fourth quarter, Hammer launched a 78-yard TD pass to Joshua Vandergriend to trim the deficit.
Hammer, a Gonzaga University baseball commit, completed 19 of 42 passes for 279 yards, three TDs and two interceptions. Vandergriend finished with seven catches for 130 yards and one score.
Leckner, a junior transfer from Snohomish who was the Panthers’ leading receiver during this spring’s abbreviated season, ran for 101 yards and two TDs on 22 carries for Glacier Peak.
“We just underperformed,” Fant said. “I think we underestimated them. … They kind of came out and kicked our ass a little bit, I’m not gonna lie.
“I think our team knows that we have a lot more talent than that. I think we just all need to come together and use it together.”