TACOMA — Lake Stevens has been among the most successful high school football programs in the state over the past decade.
During that span, the Vikings have made six trips to the state quarterfinals. Four trips to the state semifinals. And two state championship game runs in the past three full-length seasons.
The only thing missing is a state title.
But that final crowning achievement will have to wait at least another year.
The No. 3-seeded Vikings saw their title dreams crushed with a 44-7 loss to top-seeded Graham-Kapowsin in the Class 4A state championship game Saturday night at Mount Tahoma High School.
“You’re gonna run into a buzzsaw sometimes,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “And that’s kind of what I felt we saw tonight — just a team that was just bigger and faster and tackled better and blocked better and ran the ball better.
“When you combine all those things,” he added, “you’re not gonna be very happy with the outcome.”
In a clash of perennial powers that were seeking their first-ever state title, Graham-Kapowsin (14-0) made this championship bout a completely one-sided affair. With their massive and highly touted linemen controlling the game on both sides, the Eagles steamrolled to a whopping 563-131 advantage in total yardage.
For the Vikings (11-1), they were simply the final victim in Graham-Kapowsin’s dominant run to the title.
From start to finish, the Eagles compiled one of the most impressive seasons in recent state history.
They outscored opponents by 41.1 points per game. They won every contest by at least 16 points and all but one by 27-plus points. And they rolled to a combined 176-39 scoring margin in their four state playoff games, including a 42-0 shutout of No. 4 seed Kamiakin in last week’s semifinals.
“That was the best team we’ve played, by far, this year,” Tri said. “We didn’t play very well tonight, but give them credit. That’s the best team we’ve played all year, by far.”
Graham-Kapowsin kept the ball on the ground nearly the entire night, marching up and down the field while setting a 4A state championship game record with 524 yards rushing. The Eagles also nearly matched the 4A title game record for total yardage, falling just 1 yard shy of that mark.
And on the other side, Graham-Kapowsin’s suffocating defense overwhelmed a high-scoring Vikings attack that was playing without starting quarterback Grayson Murren. The standout senior suffered a broken collarbone on a hard hit in the fourth quarter of last week’s state semifinal win over No. 2 seed Eastlake.
Backup freshman quarterback Kolton Matson started in Murren’s place. It was the third career start for Matson, who also started Lake Stevens’ first two playoff games while Murren was out with a leg injury. Matson was highly efficient in those two games, but the Eagles’ defense was a completely different beast.
Would things have been different Saturday night if Murren had been healthy?
“Absolutely different,” Tri said. “I mean, not that I’m taking anything away from Kolton Matson. He did a great job for us. But when you have a quarterback that can throw it all over the field and can run and spread the defense out? Yeah, that’s gonna make a difference. And that’s what Grayson’s been able to do for us all year.
“Kolton, it wasn’t his fault by any stretch of the imagination. We didn’t run the ball very well. We didn’t protect him very well. But yeah, it changes your whole mindset and your whole game plan when you don’t have the weapons that you might have if Grayson was with us.”
Graham-Kapowsin’s high-powered ground attack churned out 8.7 yards per carry on 60 attempts, while running behind a mauling line of college recruits — highlighted by 6-foot-4, 320-pound University of Washington commit Vega Ioane.
Senior running back Zack Lee led the way with 190 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Dual-threat senior quarterback and Eastern Washington University commit Joshua Wood — who threw the ball just seven times — showcased his next-level athleticism with 172 yards and two TDs on 11 carries.
Hard-running junior tailback Jalen Davenport added 78 yards on nine carries. And junior fullback Michael Toa rumbled for 40 yards and two TDs on eight carries.
After a red-zone turnover on downs on their opening possession, the Eagles scored six TDs and a field goal on their next seven drives.
“It was a pretty simple formula from Week 1 to Week 14,” Graham-Kapowsin coach Eric Kurle said. “It was: ‘We’re gonna run, we’re gonna run, we’re gonna run. And if you can stop us, we’re gonna run again.’”
The Vikings, meanwhile, went three-and-out on four of their first six drives. They earned just seven first downs. And they didn’t reach 100 total yards until the game’s final possession.
Star junior running back Jayden Limar was held to 71 yards on 16 carries. Matson finished 6-of-13 passing for 43 yards, one TD and one interception.
“We just never got into any rhythm, and it kind of snowballed on us,” Tri said.
The Eagles opened the scoring late in the first quarter, when Lee weaved his way for a 49-yard TD run.
Graham-Kapowsin then got the ball right back after Lake Stevens muffed the ensuing kickoff, which the Eagles intentionally kicked short to keep away from the Vikings’ dangerous returners.
A few plays later, Toa bulldozed into the end zone for a 3-yard TD run, giving Graham-Kapowsin a 14-0 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter.
“We’d only had one possession, and it felt like we hadn’t even really broken stride yet,” Tri said. “And yet, we were down 14-0. That changes your mindset a little bit. And we just never could gather that momentum back.”
Midway through the second quarter, Wood took a quarterback keeper around the right side, juked a defender downfield and eluded several more on an electrifying 51-yard TD run that extended the margin to 21-0.
Lake Stevens answered with its only scoring drive of the night. Taking advantage of good field position, the Vikings drove 45 yards and scored on a 5-yard screen pass from Matson to senior receiver Trayce Hanks with 2:14 left in the half.
But the Eagles responded with one more scoring drive before the break. Wood scrambled for a key 19-yard gain and Kolby White-Gibson hit a 32-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining, stretching the Eagles’ lead to 24-7.
In the third quarter, Wood scored on a 14-yard quarterback keeper and Lee ran for a 5-yard score. Toa added a 7-yard TD run in the opening minute of the fourth to make it 44-7.
“Our front five, our tight end, our fullback and our running backs run so hard,” Kurle said. “Our kids want to be physical. And that’s what we’ve always taught at our program.”
With the loss, Lake Stevens fell to 0-4 all-time in state championship games. The Vikings lost 52-20 to Union in the 2018 4A title game, 7-6 to O’Dea in the 1994 3A title game and 21-12 to Shelton in the 1985 3A title game.
But it’s a long and challenging road just to reach the championship game. And for Lake Stevens, that was especially the case this year.
The Vikings had their first two games canceled due to COVID-19 protocols following positive tests in their program. They fought through more adversity later in the season, when Murren suffered a leg fracture that sidelined him for nearly three games.
And yet, they still found a way to come within one victory of the ultimate prize.
“So proud of our guys,” Tri said. “We didn’t get the outcome we wanted tonight, but it was a season filled with adversity, and our guys responded beautifully every time. Maybe it wasn’t our night to be. But overall, I’m super happy with this team and how far we progressed (from) where we were at the start of the season to where we finished the season.
“You know, you never want second place. But if you would’ve told me that in August, I probably would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.”
Herald writer Nick Patterson compiled the video highlights.