BOTHELL — Trailing by a point early in the fourth quarter, the Lake Stevens football team was on the verge of squandering a prime scoring chance.
Two costly penalties had pushed the Vikings from first-and-goal at the 9-yard line all the way back into the unenviable situation of third-and-goal from the 45.
Tre Long found Ian Hanson up the seam for a stunning, go-ahead 45-yard touchdown pass as the third-seeded Vikings punched their ticket to the Class 4A state championship game with a 28-14 semifinal win over second-seeded Woodinville on Saturday night at Pop Keeney Stadium.
“Just the way we drew it up,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said with a laugh.
The improbable third-and-forever touchdown helped the Vikings (13-0) earn their first trip to the state title game since 1994.
Lake Stevens will face top-seeded Union (13-0) next Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome for a chance to claim the program’s first-ever state crown. Union, coached by former Glacier Peak coach Rory Rosenbach, beat fifth-seeded Puyallup 35-28 in the other semifinal.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tri, whose Vikings suffered state semifinal losses in 2011 and 2015. “We just want another shot to go and try to win the title. … It hasn’t even really sunk in yet. I’m just still thinking about how we beat Woodinville on their field.”
Woodinville, last year’s state runner-up, entered the night allowing just 12.2 points per game. But it was the Vikings’ defense that shined brightest Saturday, forcing three turnovers and limiting the Falcons (11-2) to just 235 total yards.
“We felt like we’ve had a chip on our shoulder all year long,” Tri said of his team’s defense. “We’ve played great defense all year against dang good offenses, and we just feel like we’ve been kind of under the (radar) or a little bit disrespected. … I felt pretty good that if we were able to put up 21 or 28 points tonight, we were going to have a good shot to win the game.”
The first half was a defensive struggle, with neither team able to earn a first down on its first three possessions.
Lake Stevens broke the scoreless deadlock midway through the second quarter with a 14-play, 61-yard drive that was kept alive by three third-down conversions, including a 16-yard gain by Dallas Landeros on a third-and-long halfback sweep. Long capped the drive by diving into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
Woodinville responded with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Noah Stifle to Cage Schenck, who made a diving grab in the end zone to even the score at 7-7 with 48 seconds left in the half.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Lake Stevens standout Kasen Kinchen took a wide-receiver sweep down the right sideline for a 47-yard gain. Later in the drive, Long scored on a 14-yard quarterback keeper to give the Vikings a 13-7 lead.
Once again, Woodinville answered on its ensuing possession. Stifle ran for a 48-yard gain and tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jack Diskin, giving the Falcons a 14-13 edge.
Late in the third quarter, Landeros took a fourth-and-6 screen pass 33 yards to give the Vikings first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. However, then came the pair of penalties that pushed Lake Stevens back to almost midfield.
One play prior to the improbable touchdown pass, Hanson nearly hauled in a big reception on second-and-long.
“We almost hit it on second down, (but it was a) great play by the safety to knock it down at the last second,” Tri said.
The Vikings then dialed up a similar route concept on the next play, which resulted in the Long-to-Hanson touchdown that gave Lake Stevens a 20-14 lead with 11:15 remaining.
“(We) ran the same play and got it the second time,” Long said. “That was big-time.”
The third-and-long touchdown was reminiscent of a similar situation in the Vikings’ 2011 state opener against Olympia, when quarterback Jake Nelson converted a third-and-45 from deep in his own territory to key a game-winning Lake Stevens drive. Nelson was on the sidelines Saturday and reminded Tri of that miraculous conversion seven years ago.
“He came up and goes, ‘Third-and-45 — no big deal, right?’” Tri said. “So I had flashbacks.”
Later in the fourth, the Vikings were on the doorstep of a commanding two-possession lead when Long fumbled at the Woodinville 4-yard line and the Falcons recovered. But soon afterward, Lake Stevens regained possession on an interception by defensive back Joe Gonzales.
The Vikings then drove downfield and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run by Landeros, extending the margin to 28-14 with less than two minutes to play. Landeros finished with 111 yards on 18 carries as Lake Stevens’ high-powered rushing attack wore down Woodinville’s vaunted defense in the second half.
“That was the best defensive line we’ve seen all year by far,” Tri said. “And yet, we still found a way to wear them down in the second half … and take control of the game.”