LAKE STEVENS — Not often in recent years has the Lake Stevens football team found itself in a four-quarter battle against league competition.
Glacier Peak gave the five-time defending conference champions a rare wire-to-wire league test Friday night, but it wasn’t quite enough to shift the balance of power in Wesco 4A.
Tyler Hilton made a pivotal end-zone interception in the opening quarter and the third-ranked Vikings prevailed for a 24-21 win over the Grizzlies in a Wesco 4A showdown of unbeatens at Lake Stevens High School.
“Super proud of the way that our guys handled adversity and some pressure,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said. “… (Glacier Peak) presented some problems, (and) we had to try to rise to the challenge.”
The victory extended Lake Stevens’ conference win streak to 35 games, dating back to October 2013. It was the Vikings’ first conference game decided by single digits since a three-point win over Kamiak in 2014.
“They’re the best team we’ve played all year, and they came out swinging,” Lake Stevens senior quarterback Tre Long said. “We just had to do what we do and keep making adjustments.
“When we get punched in the mouth, we gotta come back swinging,” he added. “And that’s what we did. We got a little adversity, (and) we came back.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens gained the inside track to a sixth consecutive Wesco 4A crown. The Vikings (6-0 overall, 4-0 Wesco 4A) now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Glacier Peak and should be heavy favorites in their remaining three conference games against Cascade, Jackson and Mariner.
“We still have three more league games left and there’s a lot left to be played, but this was a big one for sure,” Tri said. “… For all intents and purposes, this was as big (of) a league game that you could have.”
For the Grizzlies, this marked a massive improvement from the previous two seasons, when they lost by a combined 117-17 margin in their two matchups against Lake Stevens. Despite falling just shy of seizing control in the Wesco 4A title race, Glacier Peak (5-1, 3-1) showed it can compete with the best.
“I think our kids did a really good job of rising to the challenge,” Grizzlies coach Nick Bender said. “They left it all out there on the field. … Our dream is still there. It’s just a little bit more difficult to get to.”
Glacier Peak couldn’t have asked for a much better start. After his team’s defense forced an opening three-and-out, standout senior quarterback Ayden Ziomas engineered a lengthy 15-play, 74-yard drive that had the Grizzlies on the verge of a tone-setting score.
But with Glacier Peak facing third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Ziomas rolled left and lofted a pass over the middle. Hilton, a junior safety, quickly broke toward the ball and made a leaping interception in the end zone to keep the Grizzlies off the board and swing the momentum.
“We had (Hilton) kind of spying in the middle of the field,” Tri said. “… You hope that playmakers make plays, and Ty is certainly a playmaker. He stepped up and made a huge play for us there and helped turn the momentum back.”
It was the first of two first-half interceptions for Ziomas, who entered the game with 21 touchdown passes and just two interceptions all season.
“Looking back on it, that’s on me,” Bender said of the end-zone interception. “That’s not on the kids. That’s on me. I called a bad play, and ultimately got a turnover and left points on the board. Even if we would’ve gotten a field goal, then who knows?”
VIKINGS’ DEFENSE KEEPS GLACIER PEAK IN CHECK
Keyed by the two interceptions and a strong performance by its defensive front, Lake Stevens limited Ziomas and the high-scoring Grizzlies to season lows of 21 points and 307 yards of total offense. Glacier Peak entered the night averaging more than 50 points and nearly 500 total yards.
“It started up front with our D-line,” Tri said. “I thought they did a great job stopping the run (and) keeping Ayden Ziomas contained. … (When) he gets out in open space, he makes a lot of guys miss and makes a lot of guys look pretty silly.
“So for our D-line to keep him contained and not give him a lot of big opportunities, (that) allowed our corners and safeties to cover and our linebackers to flow and spy a little bit. And that was really the difference.”
After the first-quarter interception by Hilton, Lake Stevens drove 89 yards downfield for the game’s first score. Senior running back Jackson Grafe rattled off a 25-yard gain and 35-yard touchdown run on back-to-back plays to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead.
Ziomas quickly bounced back from the interception, finding sophomore Trevor Meldrom wide-open down the left sideline for a game-tying 31-yard touchdown pass in the opening minute of the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lake Stevens junior Sergio Pelayo had a nice return to set up the Vikings on the Glacier Peak 36. Junior running back Dallas Landeros then gained 31 yards on a fourth-and-10 screen pass, setting up a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run by Grafe.
Throughout the game, Lake Stevens had considerable success with screen passes to running backs and receivers.
“That was probably one of my favorite play calls of the night,” Tri said of the key fourth-down conversion. “Watched a lot of film on these guys (and) noticed on fourth down, they love bringing their inside backers.
“I had a strong feeling that they were going to bring guys. … Sure as heck, both inside backers come, we get the ball to the edge and away we go.”
Lake Stevens again took advantage of good position in the third quarter, capping a short touchdown drive with a 13-yard screen pass to senior receiver Ian Hanson that extended the lead to 21-7.
Glacier Peak responded with another long march downfield, kept alive by Ziomas’ fourth-down swing pass to senior Caelan Briggs. On the ensuing play, the dual-threat quarterback scored on a 1-yard keeper to cut the margin to 21-14 late in the third quarter.
The Vikings answered with a methodical 14-play, 73-yard drive, chewing nearly eight minutes off the clock before setting up a 24-yard field goal by senior Brock Widmann that pushed their lead to 24-14 with six minutes to play.
Refusing to cave, Ziomas connected with senior David Castro on fourth down for a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it a three-point game with 2:47 remaining.
But after recovering the ensuing onside kick, Lake Stevens ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Long completed 16 of 20 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in an efficient performance. Grafe led the Vikings’ two-headed rushing attack with 74 yards and two scores on six carries. Landeros added 72 yards on 14 attempts.