LAKE STEVENS — As Gonzaga Prep marched downfield for back-to-back long touchdown drives in the first half, it looked like Lake Stevens might be in some trouble.
After all, the Bullpups’ high-powered triple-option attack had caused nightmares for opposing defenses all season long.
But the Vikings clamped down after that, stuffing Gonzaga Prep on a momentum-swinging fourth-down attempt and then blanking the Bullpups the rest of the way.
And on the other side of the ball, Lake Stevens’ talented array of playmakers did the rest.
Jayden Limar ran for four touchdowns and the third-seeded Vikings shut down sixth-seeded Gonzaga Prep for a 35-14 triumph Saturday night in a Class 4A state quarterfinal clash of unbeaten perennial powers at Lake Stevens High School.
“We all had a job,” Vikings two-way senior standout Drew Carter said. “And we knew if we executed together and all did our own job, that we’d come together and we’d win and shut their offense down. And that’s obviously what we did. It took us a while to pick it up, but we picked it up. And then once that happened, you know the rest.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens (10-0) advanced to the 4A state semifinals for the third time in the past six full-length seasons. The Vikings will face No. 2 seed Eastlake (12-0) next Saturday for a spot in the 4A state championship game.
“It’s pretty cool, for sure,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said of reaching the semifinals. “… We want to go win it all. But the final four is very special.”
Gonzaga Prep (10-1) had flummoxed defenses all season with its shotgun-based triple-option attack — a style of offense rarely seen in the state’s highest classification. Led by hard-running senior quarterback Ryan McKenna, the Greater Spokane League 4A/3A champions entered the night averaging 44.3 points per game.
But aside from the Bullpups’ two long TD drives in the first half, Lake Stevens’ defense was up to the task.
The Vikings held Gonzaga Prep to a season-low 14 points and just 233 total yards. They yielded just 4.1 yards per carry — nearly half the Bullpups’ season average entering the game. And they surrended just 41 total yards on Gonzaga Prep’s four second-half possessions.
Lake Stevens also forced three turnovers, coming up with a fumble recovery and two interceptions. McKenna finished with 154 yards on 28 carries and was 0-of-3 passing with two picks.
“Our primary effort was to really stop the inside run,” Tri said. “They have two different things — they run zone run with their fullback, and then they run QB-keep blast with their quarterback. We felt like we had to stop those two plays first, and then worry about option second.
“And that’s really what we were able to do all night — really concentrate on stopping that interior run and force them to do things that they didn’t really want to do as much.”
Limar finished with 165 yards from scrimmage, including 131 yards rushing on 20 carries. Carter had seven catches for 92 yards. Two-way standout senior receiver Trayce Hanks added 92 yards from scrimmage and a TD, as well as an interception on defense.
And in his first start since suffering a leg fracture four weeks ago, Lake Stevens standout senior quarterback Grayson Murren completed 14 of 21 passes for 214 yards.
“It’s great to have him back,” Carter said. “That’s my guy, man. I’ve missed him. I’ve been playing with him since I was like 9 or 10. … And so to have him back, it’s a great feeling.”
The Vikings struck first on the game’s opening possession, quickly driving downfield and scoring on a 4-yard TD run by Hanks.
Lake Stevens then came up with a fumble recovery on defense and drove to the Gonzaga Prep 10-yard line, but the Bullpups made a defensive stand and forced a turnover on downs.
Gonzaga Prep responded with a pair of long TD drives, steadily chipping away at the Vikings’ defense with a 17-play, 90-yard scoring march and a 14-play, 80-yarder. McKenna capped the drives with a pair of TD runs, giving the Bullpups a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
But with several big plays by their four-star junior running back, the Vikings answered right back.
Limar opened the ensuing possession with a 34-yard reception on a wheel route. Two plays later, he took back-to-back direct snaps for a 15-yard gain and a 13-yard TD to even the score.
“All year long, I’ve been saying how versatile Jayden is to us,” Tri said. “He runs the ball between the tackles, he can run stretch and sweep to the edge, he can play quarterback and do some things at quarterback, and he’s one of the best receivers we have on our team. And so we tried to make sure we utilized all of his talents tonight.”
The biggest sequence of the game started on Gonzaga Prep’s ensuing possession.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from their own 41, the Bullpups kept their offense on the field. McKenna faked a handoff and tried to plow up the middle for a first down, but Lake Stevens’ defense stuffed him for a turnover on downs.
On the very next play, Carter hauled in a tough 33-yard catch in double coverage over the middle of the field. And on the play after that, Limar ran for a 7-yard TD to give the Vikings a 21-14 lead with 1:50 left in the half.
Lake Stevens led the rest of the way.
“We (said) pregame, ‘Hey, it’s gonna come down to three plays,’” Tri said. “‘Both teams are undefeated. Both teams are great, solid programs. It’s gonna come down to two or three plays. Which one is it? We don’t know. And that’s why we’ve gotta be ready every play, because you never know when it’s gonna be your opportunity.’”
Gonzaga Prep drove to the Lake Stevens 35 on the opening possession of the second half, but the Vikings came up with a third-down sack to force a punt. Lake Stevens also stopped the Bullpups on their next possession, and then took over in great field position after a shanked punt.
Shortly after, Limar ran for a 4-yard TD to stretch the margin to 28-14 with 6:48 to play.
The Vikings then went for the knockout punch and got the ball right back by recovering a surprise onside kick. A few plays later, Limar sealed the victory with his fourth TD of the night.
“It means a lot to us,” Limar said. “It’s a really big win. We had a couple seniors get hurt (this season), including our quarterback. So to come out here and get the win with all of them — and now we’re advancing and giving them another game — it absolutely means the world to me.
“This win is definitely for our seniors.”