SEATTLE — The Lake Stevens High School football team had to wait an extra two weeks to kick off its season.
But when the Vikings finally hit the field Friday night, they sure made quite a statement.
Trayce Hanks broke two long touchdowns and Class 4A seventh-ranked Lake Stevens shut down 3A top-ranked O’Dea for a 20-3 season-opening win in a non-league showdown of perennial state powerhouses under the shadow of the Space Needle at Memorial Stadium.
“(Our) guys just came to play tonight,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said. “I don’t think there was anyone in the state that thought we were gonna beat O’Dea, except for us.”
Seven-time defending Wesco 4A champion Lake Stevens (1-0) was originally slated to open its season with marquee matchups against a pair of top KingCo 4A teams, facing Eastlake on Sept. 3 and Mount Si on Sept. 10.
But as a result of COVID-19 protocols after two players tested positive, the Vikings suspended team activities from Aug. 24 through Sept. 3. That ultimately led to the cancellation of their first two games.
Lake Stevens, however, hardly showed any rust in its opener.
The Vikings built a two-score lead early in the second half and were in control the rest of the way. It was a performance that’s sure to put the rest of the 4A state field on notice, given the talent and pedigree of O’Dea’s juggernaut program, which has reached each of the past four 3A state title games.
“It’s pretty satisfying watching our kids get the opportunity to go out and perform,” Tri said. “It’s been hard on them. … It’s just really satisfying to come out and see it all come together and produce on the field against what I think is one of the best teams in the state.”
Led by a fearsome rushing attack featuring electric tailback Jason Brown and 330-pound linemen Mark Nabou and Isendre Ahfua, O’Dea (2-1) opened its season with a combined 84 points in wins over preseason 4A top-10 teams Union and Kennedy Catholic. All three players are big-time college recruits — highlighted by Ahfua, who has an offer from Alabama and is ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s top sophomore offensive lineman.
But Lake Stevens’ defense wasn’t the least bit intimidated.
After surrendering a field goal on the game’s opening possession, the Vikings blanked O’Dea the rest of the way.
“Pretty damn impressed with our defense tonight,” Tri said. “… I thought we punished them. I mean, they have to be the biggest team in the state. They’re huge up front. But we found a way to get off blocks and then provide a little bit of giddy-up at the point of contact.”
Tri gave a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Eric Dinwiddie, who he called a “mad scientist” for his role in shutting down the high-powered Fighting Irish attack.
“He put an incredible game plan together to stop their run,” Tri said. “We had about three different fronts that we were switching in and out of on defense. We were in all three of them, just mixing it up drive by drive. They couldn’t figure out exactly what we were doing, and we shut their offense down, which is pretty hard to do.”
Brown churned out 201 yards on 29 carries, but Lake Stevens kept him relatively contained. He had just three runs of more than 10 yards.
And though O’Dea moved the ball and racked up 411 total yards, the Vikings’ defense held strong when it mattered most.
The Fighting Irish drove inside the Lake Stevens 35-yard line on each of their first three possessions of the second half, but failed to score all three times. The Vikings turned them away with a fourth-down incompletion, a fourth-and-1 stop and a third-down interception.
“We moved the ball, but we never got it in,” said O’Dea coach Monte Kohler, the state’s winningest active prep football coach. “(Lake Stevens) really did a nice job. … They executed better offensively, and you’ve gotta give them all the credit. We played hard, but we just didn’t finish. And they made plays when they had to.”
Hanks, a speedy senior who moved from running back to receiver this season, was the difference-maker on offense for the Vikings.
Early in the second quarter, Hanks took a fly sweep around the edge and hurdled over a defender on the ground before racing down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown to give Lake Stevens a 7-3 lead.
And midway through the third quarter, Hanks struck again. Senior quarterback Grayson Murren took a third-and-13 snap, eluded a defender in the pocket and launched a pass over the middle of the field. The O’Dea defensive back closed hard on the ball, but Hanks made a tough contested catch and sprinted the rest of the way for another 70-yard score, extending the Vikings’ lead to 20-3.
Hanks finished with 184 yards from scrimmage and two TDs on just six offensive touches. He also had a fourth-quarter interception on defense.
“We scored three touchdowns and he scored two of them, so (those scores) were about as big as they get,” Tri said.
Much of the attention surrounding Lake Stevens’ offense entering the season was on Jayden Limar, one of the top junior running back recruits in the nation. In fact, it was Limar’s presence that ultimately prompted the Vikings to move Hanks to receiver — so that they could get both players on the field at the same time.
And it paid off in a massive way Friday night.
“I knew Trayce was gonna have a good game,” Tri said. “Since the Lakewood 7-on-7 tournament that we (won) this summer, Trayce emerged as (an) MVP of our team. … Trayce was the man.”
Lake Stevens’ other touchdown was also set up by an explosive play. On the opening snap of the second half, Murren lofted a deep pass to fellow senior Drew Carter, who made a sliding 44-yard catch. Three plays later, Limar punched in a 1-yard score.
Limar finished with 100 yards rushing and a TD on 21 carries. Carter hauled in five catches for 75 yards and also had a fourth-quarter interception on defense. Murren was 11-of-18 passing for 161 yards, one TD and no interceptions.
“It meant so much, because we were hearing all the doubters,” Hanks said of the victory. “We heard everything. And even missing two weeks of football, we still came out here and did our thing. So I’m just proud of our guys. We all executed.”
For the Vikings, this was essentially their Week 1. It’s still awfully early. But after earning likely the most impressive victory of any team in the state so far, it’s clear this Lake Stevens squad has the potential to make a special run.
“We’re young (and) don’t have a lot of experience,” Tri said. “But boy, we’re talented. And our chemistry is there.
“You’ve gotta get to the playoffs before you can talk about the playoffs,” he added. “… But we’ve got a good shot at making a real deep run and going and trying to play for a state championship. We’ve got a good team.”
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