LAKE STEVENS — Lake Stevens and Archbishop Murphy have been Snohomish County’s two most accomplished prep football programs over the past decade.
Both teams are perennial state powers that regularly make deep postseason runs in their respective classifications. But despite all of their successes, the two area juggernauts had never squared off.
That is, until Saturday night.
Jay Roughton ran for 188 yards and three second-half touchdowns as Class 4A power Lake Stevens overcame an uncharacteristic slow start and pulled away for a 26-7 season-opening win over visiting 2A power Archbishop Murphy in a public school-private school clash of Snohomish County prep football titans.
It was quite a way for both teams to kick off their shortened spring seasons, after being sidelined for more than 15 months due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I loved the passion and the energy and the enthusiasm that our guys played with after 15 months off,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said. “It would’ve been really easy for us to hang our heads after a couple turnovers or after they made a few big plays, and I didn’t feel like that was the case at all tonight. We just kept getting up and playing hard (the) next play and trying to do what we’re capable of.”
The game was a defensive struggle for much of the night, as both teams were held scoreless until midway through the third quarter. It was a highly unusual situation for Lake Stevens, a program known for its high-scoring attacks. The Vikings averaged at least 42 points per game in each of the last six seasons, including more than 50 points per game last season.
Lake Stevens’ problems occurred in the red zone. The Vikings drove inside the Archbishop Murphy 20-yard line on each of their first three possessions, but came away with zero points against a stout defense led by University of Virginia-bound defensive end Josh McCarron. The Wildcats made a fourth-down stop on Lake Stevens’ first red-zone trip, and then intercepted star quarterback Tanner Jellison on the next two possessions to keep it a scoreless game.
“The first half, we were rusty — coaching staff (and) players,” Tri said. “… Just uncharacteristic turnovers. I don’t expect Tanner to make those mistakes, and I know he’ll fix it. It’s just (that) we haven’t played for 15 months. We’re all super antsy to go make a play, and sometimes you force things that aren’t really there.”
But after taking a goose egg into the second half, Lake Stevens leaned on its ground game and rattled off four consecutive touchdown drives in just over 12 minutes to pull away.
Roughton broke the scoreless tie at the 5:24 mark of the third quarter, when he burst through a hole on the left side and sprinted for a 30-yard touchdown. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior tailback added a 2-yard score on the opening play of the fourth quarter to make it 13-0.
Archbishop Murphy responded with a penalty-aided touchdown drive to make it a six-point game, but Roughton answered right back with his third touchdown of the night.
Just four plays into the Vikings’ next possession, Roughton took a misdirection handoff, slipped past a potential tackler, cut to the outside and sprinted down the right sideline for a 65-yard score that extended the lead to 19-7.
Lake Stevens sophomore Jayden Limar, a highly touted running back with multiple Pac-12 offers, broke a 48-yard touchdown run later in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“We made some adjustments at halftime (and) saw that we could move some motion and attack the inside,” Tri said. “So we went to some trap and counter trap, along with some of our zone concepts. And that worked pretty well for us.”
For Roughton, his performance carried extra meaning. He tore his ACL in June of 2019 and underwent knee surgery that summer. He missed his entire junior season. And because of the pandemic, he didn’t know whether he’d get a senior season.
“The gap of time — waiting 15 months to get back on the field — it just put in my head like, ‘Hey, maybe (sophomore year) was my last year,’” Roughton said. “But being able to go out tonight and just be with the team again and really give them everything I had, I’ve just gotta thank God for everything he does for me.”
Tri praised Roughton for all of his hard work to get back on the field.
“We named him fifth captain tonight because of all the effort and work that he has put in, just to be able to come back and be with the team after having that major knee surgery,” Tri said. “(It was) very special, and what a great night for him.”
Tri and Roughton also complimented their offensive line, which was breaking in four new starters against a big and physically imposing defensive front.
“Our O-line played great tonight,” Tri said. “(They were) inconsistent in the first quarter, just kind of getting used to game speed and the blitzing and the aggressiveness. But by about midway through the second quarter, we made enough adjustments. … And that was really why we were able to start really moving the ball in chunks.”
Lake Stevens senior Gabe Ramsey also had a massive night on both sides of the ball. The two-way standout caught seven passes for 147 yards, doing most of his damage while showcasing his speed on wide-receiver screens. He also intercepted two passes on defense, including a diving pick in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory.
Lake Stevens outgained Archbishop Murphy 464-182 in total yardage and limited the Wildcats to just 3.4 yards per play. But the Vikings’ red-zone struggles in the first half kept the game close until late.
“I feel like we played good, but we were capable of so much more,” Tri said. “And I guess that’s good for us in that we were able to still get a victory. … And yet, I know that we can get better.”
This was just the sixth time in the last five-plus seasons that Lake Stevens has been held to 26 points or fewer. Three of the other five instances came in the 4A state playoffs.
“I thought our defense played really well,” Archbishop Murphy coach Mark Leone said. “We talked all week that we had to fly around against Lake Stevens. They’re going to attack you the whole width of the field (and) the whole length of it.
“We just tried not to get outnumbered in spots. We tried to do our best with that, and when we didn’t, they kind of found some holes. But I’m really proud of the way our defense played.”
Over the last decade, these two elite programs have combined for 15 state playoff appearances and 12 trips to the state quarterfinal round. Both teams reached their respective state quarterfinals last season, with Lake Stevens falling to Mount Si in the 4A bracket and Archbishop Murphy falling to eventual champion Tumwater in 2A.
Lake Stevens has made eight 4A state playoff appearances in the last nine seasons, including five trips to the state quarterfinals, three trips to the state semifinals and a trip to the state championship game in 2018.
Archbishop Murphy has had similar success at the 2A level. Since moving up from 1A in 2004, the Wildcats have reached the state quarterfinals in 12 of the last 16 seasons. That includes five trips to the state semifinals and four trips to the state championship game, with their one 2A state title coming in 2016.
For Archbishop Murphy, this was the program’s first-ever matchup against a Wesco team. And it came against the undisputed king of Wesco — a Lake Stevens program that’s rolled to seven consecutive Wesco 4A crowns.
“They have an elite program,” Leone said. “And I think for us, it was rising to that challenge and building ourselves. What’s very exciting about this is we got better. Just because we had to prepare for Lake Stevens, we became a better football team over the last two (or) three weeks.
“Obviously, we want to get the victory on the field. But at the end of the day, as long as we keep getting better every day and every week, we’ll be happy with that.”