LAKE STEVENS — Ever since last year’s state title game loss to Graham-Kapowsin, the Lake Stevens football team has been on a mission to get back to Mount Tahoma Stadium and claim the ultimate prize.
With their latest triumph, the Vikings booked a return trip to the championship game.
They moved within one win of their first-ever state crown.
And they dished out a heavy dose of revenge, beating the same program that crushed their title dreams 51 weeks ago.
Jayden Limar ran for five touchdowns and threw another on a halfback pass, leading second-seeded Lake Stevens to a 42-28 win over sixth-seeded defending champion Graham-Kapowsin in a Class 4A state semifinal Saturday evening.
“Granted, it’s pretty freaking cool that we beat up on Graham-Kapowsin after what they did to us last year,” said Vikings coach Tom Tri, whose team fell 44-7 to a historically dominant Eagles squad in last season’s title game. “So we got a little bit of redemption.
“But really, our eyes have been on the prize all year long — and that’s to try to go win a state championship. And we’ve gotta go find a way to (win) one more time.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens advanced to the 4A state championship game for the third time in the past four postseasons.
The Vikings (11-2) will face fourth-seeded Kennedy Catholic (12-1) for the state crown next Saturday night at Mount Tahoma Stadium. Kennedy Catholic beat eighth-seeded Emerald Ridge 42-28 in the other semifinal.
It’ll mark the fifth state championship game trip for Lake Stevens, which reached the 2021 and 2018 4A state title games and the 1994 and 1985 3A state title games.
“It’s amazing,” Limar said. “There’s only two teams left in 4A and we’re one of them, so that’s always amazing — especially all the battles we had to fight this year. No other word but amazing.”
And to gain some revenge along the way?
“Any time a team beats you that bad like (Graham-Kapowsin) did last year, you’re gonna remember it,” Limar said. “So I’m just happy we were able to (beat them). … We got ‘em back.”
Limar added to his spectacular season with another massive night.
The Notre Dame-bound senior running back rushed for 174 yards and five scores on 24 carries, bringing his season total to 39 total TDs.
And the ultra-talented back accounted for a sixth TD with his arm, when he connected on a halfback pass that gave the Vikings a 14-point fourth-quarter cushion.
Limar said it was the first TD pass of his entire football career.
When asked to rate the quality of his star tailback’s throw, Tri jokingly gave it a 4.5 or 5 out of 10 before changing his mind.
“Hey, I rate it a 10 because it got us six points,” Tri said with a laugh. “So it’s a 10 in my book.”
The game’s key sequence came after the halftime break.
Graham-Kapowsin had just scored 11 points in the final minute of the first half to surge in front for an 18-14 lead. But by the time the Eagles (10-3) finally got the ball back again, they were down by double digits.
With a pair of third-quarter touchdown drives sandwiched around an onside kick, Lake Stevens flipped a four-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead.
“We were in the locker room and Tri told us exactly what was about to happen,” Limar said. “He said, ‘We’re gonna get the ball, we’re gonna score, we’re gonna get it back and we’re gonna score again.’ We came out (and) did exactly what he said.”
The Vikings opened the second half with an 11-play, 69-yard scoring march. Junior tight end Cole Becker extended the drive by withstanding a big hit and hanging on for a tough third-and-13 reception over the middle. On the next play, Limar took a pitch around the left edge for a 10-yard TD to give Lake Stevens a 21-18 lead.
The Vikings then caught Graham-Kapowsin off-guard with an onside kick. Senior kicker Macray Flanders dribbled the ball up the middle and snagged it just after it traveled 10 yards, handing possession right back to the Vikings’ offense just inside midfield.
Lake Stevens followed with another scoring drive, aided by a pair of key completions from sophomore quarterback Kolton Matson.
Matson connected on a fourth-and-8 pass to senior receiver Isaac Redford, who made a sliding catch near the sideline to move the chains. A few plays later, Matson found Becker for a third-and-6 completion to set up first-and-goal.
And on the next play, Limar powered into the end zone for a 4-yard score to make it 28-18 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter.
“We talked (at halftime) about how we were shooting ourselves in the foot and how if we could just come out and get some momentum back by marching down the field and scoring and giving ourselves the lead, that we were gonna go (with the onside kick) and … totally change the momentum,” Tri said.
“And that’s exactly what we did.”
Graham-Kapowsin standout junior Jabez Woods returned the ensuing kickoff to the Lake Stevens 30-yard line. But the Vikings’ defense held strong, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 36-yard field goal by senior kicker Kolby White-Gibson.
Lake Stevens answered with another TD drive, marching 65 yards in just six plays. Limar ran for gains of 10, 16 and 10 yards before racing around the right edge for a 7-yard score, stretching the Vikings’ lead to 35-21 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Graham-Kapowsin refused to cave. The Eagles responded with a TD drive, cutting the deficit to 35-28 on a 5-yard scoring run by senior tailback Jalen Davenport with 8:18 to play.
Graham-Kapowsin then attempted an onside kick, but Lake Stevens recovered near midfield. The Vikings then benefited from back-to-back personal-foul penalties by the Eagles, which moved the ball to just outside the red zone.
On the next snap, Lake Stevens dialed up the halfback pass for Limar.
The star running back took a toss to the right and then lofted a pass to Redford, who hauled it in for a 22-yard TD to give the Vikings a 42-28 cushion.
“We’d been working on that for a couple weeks actually,” Tri said. “We almost flushed it. And then yesterday at practice we had about three or four extra minutes and said, ‘Hey, let’s run the double pass and just see what it looks like.’ And we ran it and Jayden threw a spiral.
“So it was yesterday at practice that kind of solidified like, hey, if we need it, we’re gonna call it. It was the right time, and we were able to hit on it and score.”
On the ensuing Graham-Kapowsin possession, Lake Stevens junior safety David Brown came up with a diving interception to all but seal the victory.
Limar gave the home crowd a bit of a scare when he exited the game in the final minutes after tweaking his ankle on a run. But he appeared to be moving around fine after the game.
“I’ll be good for next week,” Limar said. “I’m good.”
Both teams missed out on scoring opportunities in the opening quarter. The Vikings lost a red-zone fumble on a handoff exchange, while the Eagles had a long TD pass called back on a holding penalty.
Lake Stevens dealt the first blow with a 1-yard TD run by Limar in the final minute of the first quarter. Graham-Kapowsin answered on its next drive when senior running back Khalil Yarbo burst up the middle for a 24-yard score.
Soon after, the Vikings struck again.
Sophomore receiver Cassidy Bolong-Banks kept Lake Stevens’ ensuing drive alive with a tough 27-yard reception on third-and-12. And on the very next play, Limar raced up the middle and showcased his blazing speed with a 55-yard TD that gave the Vikings a 14-7 advantage.
That remained the score until Graham-Kapowsin junior quarterback Daveon Superales found sophomore receiver Khristian Norris for a 22-yard TD pass with 31 seconds left in the half. Superales then connected with Woods for a 2-point conversion pass, giving the Eagles a 15-14 edge.
On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Graham-Kapowsin senior defensive back Garrett Ott came up with an interception. That handed the ball right back to Superales, who followed with back-to-back completions to Woods. White-Gibson then hit a 31-yard field goal as time expired to give the Eagles a four-point halftime lead.
Superales finished 24-of-41 passing for 230 yards, one TD and one interception. The dual-threat quarterback also ran for 56 yards on eight carries. Woods had 10 catches for 101 yards, while Norris added six catches for 70 yards and one TD.
Becker was the top receiver for Lake Stevens, finishing with six catches for 92 yards.
“Our kids just played hard,” Tri said. “Graham’s a great football team — really physical. Just proud that our kids persevered there. We didn’t play very well in the first half. I thought we made a few mistakes (and) kept shooting ourselves in the foot.
“But (we) came back in the second half and really stepped it up.”
This was the fifth time in the past seven postseasons that the Vikings and Eagles had met in the 4A state playoffs. With its semifinal victory, Lake Stevens has now won three of those five playoff encounters.
“Both teams know each other very well,” Tri said. “It’s definitely become a de facto rivalry. You know if you get in the state playoffs and keep playing long enough, you’re gonna end up playing Graham-Kapowsin.
“And sure as heck we ended up playing them here in the semifinals this year. And we were able to find a way to get a ‘W.’”