By this point, the Lake Stevens and Graham-Kapowsin football teams are plenty familiar with each other.
Three years ago, the Jacob Eason-led Vikings punched their ticket to the Tacoma Dome with a 49-14 state quarterfinal victory over Graham-Kapowsin. The Eagles returned the favor last year, handing Lake Stevens a 38-31 season-ending loss in the opening round of the state playoffs.
The perennial powers are set for another win-or-go-home showdown Saturday night, when the third-seeded Vikings host sixth-seed Graham-Kapowsin in a Class 4A state quarterfinal at Lake Stevens High School. It’s the third state-playoff clash in four years between the two programs.
“We feel like we have a really good understanding of who they are, what they want to do offensively and what they’re going to do defensively,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said. “At the same time, they’re saying the same thing about us. … It’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse chess match.”
In last year’s state matchup, Lake Stevens piled up 563 yards of total offense but was undone by four turnovers, including a costly fumble at the G-K 1-yard line. The Vikings rallied from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to make it a one-possession game, but the late surge wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive miscues.
“They didn’t like losing on our home field last year, especially the way we did,” Tri said. “They remember that very much. This is a different team, different group. But there’s enough (returning players) that don’t want to feel that way.”
After nearly 1,000 yards combined of total offense in last year’s meeting, Saturday’s rematch has the potential to be another shootout between two high-powered attacks. Lake Stevens (11-0) averages 50.4 points per game, and G-K (10-1) scores 40.9 per contest.
“It’s going to come down to really who can impose their will on the other team,” Tri said.
G-K’s offense is led by University of Washington-bound quarterback Dylan Morris, the top overall senior recruit in the state and eighth-ranked senior quarterback in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound standout has completed 61 percent of his passes this season for 2,370 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“He sees the field as well as any quarterback in high school football,” Tri said. “He’s got a strong arm and a quick release, but his ability to find the open receiver and get the ball out on the break is what really makes him stand out.”
Morris’ favorite target is speedy 5-foot-8 junior Malaki Roberson, who has 1,142 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches. In last week’s 45-38 first-round win over Mead, the three-star receiver caught nine passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns, scoring on receptions of 70 and 93 yards.
One of Saturday night’s most intriguing matchups could be Roberson against Lake Stevens junior cornerback Kasen Kinchen, if and when the two line up opposite each other. Kinchen, a three-star recruit with an offer from the University of Oregon, has seven interceptions this season to lead a Vikings team that’s forced 27 turnovers and scored six defensive touchdowns.
“(Dylan) can get the ball out really fast, so as a corner I’ve got to make sure I can break on the ball fast and read the receivers, because he throws it right when the receiver’s breaking,” Kinchen said.
Yet even though G-K has one of the nation’s top-ranked quarterbacks, the Eagles tend to run more often than they pass. G-K has a big, senior-laden offensive line that’s paved the way for a strong rushing attack, which has continued to excel despite injuries to its top two backs.
“They are the biggest, most physical team we’ve played all year,” Tri said. “They’ve got a good, solid offensive and defensive line. … They’ve overpowered team after team.”
The Vikings follow a similar formula on offense, sporting a balanced attack that features a powerful offensive line. Led by its bruising unit up front, Lake Stevens averages more than 250 yards rushing per game and a whopping 7.8 yards per carry.
“Their offensive line is really, really strong,” G-K coach Eric Kurle said.
The Vikings are running more often than in years past but are still extremely proficient through the air, as they showed in last week’s 56-42 opening-round win over Curtis. With Curtis loading the box and often leaving man-to-man coverage in the secondary, Lake Stevens took advantage with a handful of big plays in the passing game.
Senior quarterback Tre Long completed 15 of 16 passes for a season-high 357 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Kinchen hauled in a pair of deep passes and scored on a 66-yard screen play, finishing with three catches for 151 yards. The two-way standout leads the Vikings with 849 yards receiving and averages 25 yards per catch.
“They (have) a lot of moving parts,” Kurle said of Lake Stevens’ offense. “They try to get numbers on you, try to get leverage on you, and they do a good job of mixing things up.”
Last year’s state opener against G-K marked just the second career varsity start at quarterback for Long after replacing injured Conor Bardue. Long was coming off a three-week bout with mononucleosis, but filled in admirably during Lake Stevens’ two playoff games, throwing for 449 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss to G-K.
But the dual-threat quarterback has since made considerable strides, which have translated into a supremely efficient senior season. Long has completed 74 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Over the past seven games, he’s connected on 84 percent of his throws.
“Leaps and bounds,” Tri said of Long’s growth over the past year. “He truly has the understanding now of what his first read, second read (and) third read is. … Last year (at this time), we were just trying to run the play and hope that someone got open.”
G-K is a battle-tested team with four victories by seven points or less, including a pair of one-point wins over Curtis and Oregon powerhouse Sheldon. The Eagles’ lone loss was an overtime defeat to South Puget Sound League rival Puyallup, the No. 5 seed in the 4A state bracket.
“It ages me a lot,” Kurle said with a laugh. “We’ve played some tough, great teams, and we’ve been in tight games all year.”
Lake Stevens entered last week with only one game decided by less than 17 points, but received a four-quarter test from Curtis. In a back-and-forth shootout, Lake Stevens pulled away in the final quarter on an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Isaiah Harris.
“I think playing in close games like that definitely gives you the experience and the wherewithal to keep fighting even if things don’t go your way early,” Tri said. “Against good teams, you have to play well for four quarters and keep making plays, and I thought we did a really good job of that last week.
“Now we’ve gotta do it all over again this week.”