BOTHELL — Drew Carter kept finding holes in the defense and hauling in drive-extending passes from Grayson Murren.
Trayce Hanks kept racing past defenders for extra yardage.
The Limar brothers kept moving the chains on the ground.
And the Lake Stevens football team methodically marched up and down the field — all the way to the state championship game.
The No. 3-seeded Vikings moved within one win of their first-ever state title with a 45-28 triumph over No. 2 seed Eastlake in a Class 4A state semifinal clash of unbeatens Saturday afternoon at Pop Keeney Stadium.
“It feels awesome,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “It feels amazing. The work these guys have put in this year — I just couldn’t be more proud of this team. Really. Like, we’re so young and we’ve just continued to develop as the season progressed.
“And here we are — going and playing for a state championship.”
With the victory, the Vikings (11-0) advanced to face top-seeded Graham-Kapowsin (13-0) in next Saturday’s 4A state title game at Mount Tahoma High School. Graham-Kapowsin routed No. 4 seed Kamiakin 42-0 in the other state semifinal.
It will be Lake Stevens’ fourth state championship game appearance in program history — and its second in the past three full-length seasons. The Vikings reached the 2018 4A state title game, but fell to top-seeded Union 52-20.
“Back when I was a freshman, I had the opportunity to go out and play in the state championship,” said Carter, a Lake Stevens standout senior and Eastern Washington University commit. “We lost, but hey, here’s another opportunity for me to go out with my team.
“It means a lot, man,” he added. “It’s a great feeling. We definitely deserved this.”
In a showdown between the Wesco 4A and KingCo 4A champions, the Vikings more than doubled Eastlake’s total yardage and number of offensive plays. Lake Stevens racked up 541 yards on 85 plays, while the Wolves (12-1) totaled 268 yards on 41 plays.
“They did a really nice job of controlling the ball all game,” said Eastlake coach Kyle Snell, whose program was making its first state semifinal appearance in the Sammamish Plateau school’s 29-year history.
Murren completed 34 of 44 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, while spreading the ball to his team’s versatile array of playmakers.
The senior quarterback’s go-to target all afternoon was Carter, who finished with 13 catches for 166 yards and two TDs. Time and time again, the two longtime teammates and friends connected for key completions.
“We’ve built that (chemistry) up since we were like 9,” Carter said. “… That’s my guy, man. I’ve known him forever and that’s my brother.”
And in one of the game’s biggest moments, the Murren-to-Carter connection came through with what proved to be the knockout punch.
With a 31-28 lead near the midway mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line. They initially lined up for a field-goal attempt. But after calling a timeout, they put the offense back on the field.
The gamble paid off.
Murren took a shotgun snap, rolled right and fired a pass to Carter just before taking a big hit. Carter, who was running an out route toward the right sideline, hauled in the pass for a contested 4-yard TD catch that extended the margin to 38-28 with 6:22 to play.
“We were gonna kick a field goal, because I figured we needed points,” Tri said. “But a field goal would’ve only put us up by six. And so after thinking about it and getting the field goal team out there, the whole offense is coming over saying, ‘Why aren’t we going for it? Why aren’t we going for it? We’re gonna score. We’re gonna score.’
“And I’m thinking, ‘I should probably listen to my team here.’ And so we called a timeout and drew up a play that we thought would work. And it did.”
On Eastlake’s ensuing possession, Lake Stevens came up with a fourth-down defensive stop. Backup freshman running back Jayshon Limar then broke a 29-yard TD run, which stretched the lead to 45-28 and effectively sealed the victory.
Jayshon Limar finished with 74 yards and three TDs on 13 carries while spending most of the second half as the lead back. He was filling in for his older brother, four-star junior tailback Jayden Limar, who took a hard hit to the ribs and was dealing with an illness, according to Tri. Jayden Limar ran for 71 yards and a TD on 20 carries in little more than a half of action.
“I’m just super happy for our seniors and our juniors,” Jayshon Limar said of contributing as a freshman. “They work so hard for this.”
Hanks, a versatile senior receiver, totaled 161 yards on 18 offensive touches — while showcasing his speed on a bevy of screen passes and fly sweeps. He had 13 catches for 103 yards and five carries for 58 yards.
“Tri does a really good job of … getting them the ball in different ways and out in space,” Snell said. “… It puts a lot of pressure on any defense, but especially those guys on the edge or on the perimeter defensively.”
Both teams scored on their opening possessions of the game. Eastlake senior quarterback Parker Barrysmith found 6-foot-6 senior tight end Will Woodward for a 15-yard TD pass, while Jayden Limar answered with a 1-yard TD run.
Later in the opening quarter, the Wolves blocked a punt and returned it to the 1-yard line. On the next play, senior running back Jack Peterson plunged into the end zone to give Eastlake a 14-7 lead.
The Vikings responded with a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive, which Jayshon Limar capped with a 3-yard TD run. On its next possession, Lake Stevens added a 37-yard field goal from junior Macray Flanders to take a 17-14 lead.
Later in the half, Eastlake regained the advantage on a 65-yard TD pass from Barrysmith to senior Noah Weintraub down the right sideline.
But once again, the Vikings answered. Facing a third-and-11, Murren fired a 14-yard TD strike to Carter to give Lake Stevens a 24-21 lead with 24 seconds left in the half.
“Drew’s a big-time senior and he doesn’t want this to end,” Tri said. “… He was the only one that really played a significant amount in that (2018 state title) game. He remembers that and he (wanted) to get back there in the worst way.”
The Vikings opened the second half with a 13-play, 72-yard TD march that spanned nearly 5 1/2 minutes. Jayshon Limar capped it by powering into the end zone on a 5-yard toss for a 31-21 lead.
In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, the Wolves capped a string of eight consecutive runs with a 1-yard TD by junior Blake Borup, who plunged into the end zone on fourth-and-goal to trim the margin to 31-28.
That was as close as Eastlake would get.
Lake Stevens responded with a back-breaking 13-play, 68-yard scoring march that included a pair of fourth-down conversions. The first was a 5-yard run by Jayshon Limar on a fourth-and-1. The other was the fourth-down TD pass from Murren to Carter that helped put the game out of reach.
“It took a really good throw and a really good catch by a really, really good receiver,” Snell said of the Murren-to-Carter fourth-down TD.
Lake Stevens and Eastlake were originally slated to square off in a season-opening showdown on Sept. 3. That matchup ended up being one of two games the Vikings canceled due to COVID-19 protocols following positive tests in their program.
Lake Stevens fought through more adversity later in the season after Murren suffered a leg fracture that sidelined him for nearly three games.
But through it all, the Vikings kept on winning.
“Every week, we’ve just continued to gain more experience (and) more confidence,” Tri said. “And with that has come more and more success.
“And it’s why it’s been really fun to watch this team progress, because we really have made huge strides from where we were at the start of the season to where we are now.”
Lake Stevens is now just one win away from its first-ever official state title.
The Vikings lost in each of their previous three state championship game trips, falling in the 4A title game in 2018 and the 3A title game in 1994 and 1985. Lake Stevens claims a pair of unofficial state titles prior to the creation of the state playoffs in the 1970s.
“This team has more chemistry than any team I think we’ve had before,” Tri said. “I don’t know if I’d say we’re the best, most talented group, or the oldest group. But they believe, and they have (the) want to, and they like hanging out with each other, and they’ve got each other’s backs. … And I think that has more of an impact than people realize.
“You have to have the team that wants to be together and play together and is coachable and wants to do the right thing all the time. That’s what this group’s done all year long.”