MONROE — Each of the past two seasons, the Lake Stevens and Monroe football teams squared off in the regular-season finale for the Wesco 4A crown.
Both times, the Vikings turned the highly anticipated showdown into a decisive blowout.
The two league rivals met again Friday night, and while this year’s encounter was slightly more competitive, the result was once again a dominant Lake Stevens victory.
Dallas Landeros rushed for 247 yards and two touchdowns as the fourth-ranked Vikings overpowered Monroe for a 49-31 win Friday night in the Wesco 4A opener for both teams.
“We did just about everything we wanted to do offensively,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “We ran the ball really well. Super impressed with our offensive line. (It was) holes galore. … I was really impressed with us offensively.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens (3-0 overall, 1-0 Wesco 4A) extended its conference winning streak to 32 games and continued its mastery of the rival Bearcats. The Vikings have won 12 of the teams’ past 13 meetings, including six in a row by an average of 33.7 points per game.
LAKE STEVENS’ DOMINANT RUSHING ATTACK
Over the years, the Vikings have been known for a high-powered spread offense that consistently averages more than 40 points per game. That’s still the case this season, with Lake Stevens scoring 43 points per contest through its first three games.
But with a big and talented offensive line, the Vikings are running the ball more frequently than in years past — and with considerable success.
Landeros, a junior, led a dominant spread rushing attack that totaled 383 yards on 47 carries — an average of 8.1 yards per attempt. He had several tackle-breaking runs and took advantage of a dominant performance by his offensive line.
Remarkably, Lake Stevens never broke a run of 20-plus yards until the game’s final play. Rather, the Vikings drove up and down the field in methodical fashion, scoring touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions while building a 49-21 third-quarter lead.
“They’re big, they’re disciplined (and) they do a great job of combo-blocking and getting to that second level,” Monroe coach Michael Bumpus said of Lake Stevens’ offensive line. “And they’re just well-coached. I’m not sure who their O-line coach is over there, but he does a hell of a job with those boys every year.
“And now you mix that in with the size and speed that they have, I see them going a long way.”
STEALING A POSSESSION
After Monroe struck first with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Gio Fregoso to Efton Chism III on the game’s opening possession, Lake Stevens marched downfield for the game-tying score.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings recovered the ball on a short pooch kick to the right sideline, setting up their offense on the Bearcats 35-yard line.
Three plays later, Tom Lewis ran for his second touchdown of the opening quarter, giving Lake Stevens a 14-7 lead it never relinquished.
“We wanted to change the momentum,” Tri said of the pooch kick. “… We noticed on film that there was a little bit of a hole over there (on Monroe’s return team), and we thought if they were going to give it to us, we’d take a shot.”
Monroe (0-3, 0-1) stayed within striking distance for most of the first half, cutting the deficit to 21-14 on Blake Rybar’s 41-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.
But the Vikings quickly extinguished any momentum the Bearcats had gained.
On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Lake Stevens junior standout Kasen Kinchen raced past Monroe’s defense and hauled in a perfectly placed play-action pass from Tre Long for a 55-yard touchdown, pushing the lead back to 14 points. The Bearcats never came within single digits again.
“We’d been running some jet sweep off the edge in our first series,” Tri said. “We’ve done that a few times last week as well as this week, and felt like their safeties and corners were doing a good job trying to come up and take that sweep away.
“So if they’re going to try to take the sweep away, (we thought) let’s try to throw the ball over the top — and it worked. Kasen did a great job of running a great route, and Tre held the ball perfectly and got rid of it on time and beat the safeties over the top.”
The Vikings added another touchdown later in the half and found the end zone again on their opening drive of the third quarter, extending the lead to 42-14.
OPENING GAUNTLET FOR BOTH TEAMS
Friday night’s Wesco 4A opener capped a challenging three-game opening stretch for both teams.
Lake Stevens opened with a 42-14 rout of Ferndale, which reached the Class 3A state quarterfinals last season but graduated numerous key players from that team. The Vikings then rolled to a 38-21 win last week over 3A fifth-ranked Lincoln before beating league rival Monroe, which graduated a talented senior class from last year’s 4A state-quarterfinal squad.
“It was a gauntlet,” Tri said. “Ferndale and Lincoln were two very solid teams. And then having to come play at Monroe — they (were) a state quarterfinal team last year. But I thought our kids did a really good job of answering the bell and rising to the occasion.
“The first three weeks we had to put a lot of things in. We have things in right now (in) Week 3 that normally aren’t in until Week 6, Week 7, Week 8. And so we had to front-line a lot of the things we were doing on both offense and defense, with mixing our coverages and just trying to be as sophisticated as we can to give teams a different look.”
Youth-laden Monroe opened with losses to a pair of KingCo 4A teams — Eastlake and seventh-ranked Woodinville — before falling to Lake Stevens.
“I told (my players), ‘You guys just went through the hardest three games I think anyone has had in the state,’” Bumpus said. “And there’s a lot of positives that came out of that. It’s never good to be 0-3 — obviously we want to win. But the things that they learned are going to help them these next six or seven games.”
MONROE’S TOP PERFORMERS
Efton Chism III, jr., WR/DB: Chism III caught eight passes for 179 yards, including long touchdown receptions of 57 and 65 yards. The two-way standout also intercepted a deep pass on defense.
Gio Fregoso, jr., QB: Fregoso completed 26 of 40 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Blake Rybar, jr., RB: Rybar had eight catches for 109 yards and 12 carries for 63 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run.
Lake Stevens takes a 32-game conference winning streak into next week’s game at Mount Vernon, which routed Cascade 52-6 in its Wesco 4A opener Friday night. After winless seasons in 2015 and 2016, the much-improved Bulldogs are off to their first 3-0 start since 2013.
Monroe looks to rebound next week at Mariner, which opened conference play with a 40-14 win over rival Kamiak on Friday night.