Lake Stevens-Union preview: A matchup of balanced squads

The 4A state football championship games features teams that can win on both sides of the ball.

Lake Stevens’ Devin MacWatters intercepts a pass intended for Glacier Peak’s Evan Mannes during a game on Oct. 5, 2018, at Lake Stevens High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Devin MacWatters intercepts a pass intended for Glacier Peak’s Evan Mannes during a game on Oct. 5, 2018, at Lake Stevens High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Lake Stevens football team is one win away from the ultimate prize.

In a clash of unbeatens aiming for their first official state title, the third-seeded Vikings face top-seeded Union in the Class 4A state championship game Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome.

“We’ve all been talking about this since we’ve been in youth football,” Lake Stevens two-way junior standout Kasen Kinchen said. “So it’s just a really big moment for all of us.”

This is the Vikings’ first trip to a state title game since 1994, when they lost 7-6 to O’Dea. Lake Stevens also reached the championship game in 1985 before falling 21-12 to Shelton.

Prior to the creation of the state playoffs in the 1970s, the Vikings claim a pair of unofficial state titles. Lake Stevens finished atop the Associated Press poll in 1966 and beat Granger in an unofficial state championship game the two schools scheduled in 1951.

Asked what it would mean to claim the Vikings’ first official state crown, Lake Stevens senior linebacker Isaiah Harris summed it up with one word.

“Everything,” he said. “Everything.”

On the other side is a Union team making the second state championship game appearance in its program’s brief history. The Titans reached the 3A title game in 2008 — only one year after the school opened — and fell 35-6 to perennial powerhouse Bellevue.

Union (13-0) is a battle-tested squad, having played an ultra-tough regular-season slate and won six of its 13 games by seven points or less. In addition to an early season road victory over a California team that’s still alive in its division’s playoffs, five of the Titans’ other eight regular-season wins came against teams that advanced to state.

“The fun part is we’ve done it in a variety of ways,” said Union coach Rory Rosenbach, who was Glacier Peak’s head coach for eight seasons before taking over the Titans in 2016. “Defenses have won games. Special teams have won games. Offenses have won games.

“And so I think it gives our kids confidence that they know, regardless of the situation, they’re going to be able to go in and lean on each other and get the job done.”

Union has four of the top 55 senior recruits in the state, according to 247Sports.com. But the Titans’ top seed and collection of highly ranked players might only provide added fuel for the Vikings (13-0), who have been thriving on an underdog mentality the past few weeks.

“I think we’re always overlooked,” Kinchen said. “And I kind of like it, because then we’ve always gotta go prove everybody wrong.”

Here’s a look at what to expect when each team has the ball:

LAKE STEVENS OFFENSE

The Vikings’ high-powered spread offense, which averages nearly 45 points per game, has leaned more toward the run this season than in years past. The primary reason is a big and talented offensive line, anchored by the junior trio of Devin Kylany, Logan Bruce-Jones and Wyatt Hall.

Led by the bruising group of lane-clearers up front, Lake Stevens averages nearly 260 yards rushing per contest and 7.8 yards per carry excluding kneel-downs. Dallas Landeros, a junior, has run for a team-high 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I think what sets these guys apart is they’re really, really well-coached … (and) they move really well and get out in that stretch game,” Rosenbach said of the Vikings’ line. “They run really well, which a lot of O-lines that size aren’t able to do.”

Dual-threat quarterback Tre Long spearheads a supremely efficient passing attack, having completed 72 percent of his throws for more than 2,500 yards, 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The senior also has rushed for 451 yards and 12 scores.

Long’s favorite receiving targets are Kinchen (927 yards and 12 touchdowns) and senior Ian Hanson (902 yards and nine touchdowns).

“They really get you moving laterally in one direction or the other, and that can be really, really difficult,” Rosenbach said of Lake Stevens’ offense. “Their quarterback is a good runner, just like ours, so it makes for an additional problem.

“They do a great job with the screen game,” he added. “It makes you hesitate to bring too much pressure, because if you get caught blitzing and they hit a screen, it’s probably a house call.”

UNION DEFENSE

The Titans allow less than 19 points per game and have forced 29 turnovers, including 16 fumble recoveries. Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said Union excels at keeping offenses off-balance with a wide variety of defensive fronts.

“They’re rarely in the same defense twice, so we’re going to have to do a good job of communicating every front,” Tri said. “… They do a good job of disguising their defense and moving guys around, yet still (are) able to execute, stop the run and stop the pass.”

Senior linebacker Alishawuan Taylor, a three-star athlete with an offer from the University of Idaho, has five sacks and two forced fumbles for a Union defense that’s totaled 32 sacks.

Junior linebacker Tyler Summers and senior defensive linemen Marvin Barber and Reagan Kelley also have at least four sacks and two forced fumbles apiece.

Darien Chase, the defensive player of the year for the 4A Greater St. Helens League, anchors the secondary. Junior defensive back Aidan Hoyt has a team-high five interceptions.

“I think our defense gets overshadowed a lot,” Rosenbach said. “I think that’s probably been one of the biggest areas of growth for us. We run around really well. We’ve got some guys that can move, (and) we’ve got some guys that are pretty savvy and smart.”

UNION OFFENSE

Much like Lake Stevens, the Titans feature a run-first spread offense that mixes in a variety of passes.

“They’re going to (do) misdirection and they’re going to throw the deep ball, the screens and the underneath stuff just like we do,” Tri said. “But at heart, they’re a run-first team just like we are.”

Union’s attack is led by dual-threat senior quarterback Lincoln Victor, a three-star recruit with an offer from the University of Hawaii. Victor has completed 70 percent of his passes for more than 2,200 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has 720 yards rushing and 10 scoring runs for the Titans, who average 36.9 points per game.

“Our guys are used to having to cover quarterbacks in space, but we’ve yet to see someone (who) runs this fast,” Tri said.

Jojo Siofele, a senior who plays both slot receiver and running back, has more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. The unrelated tailback duo of Nile Jones and Isaiah Jones have combined for more than 1,000 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in Union’s diverse ground attack, which averages 229 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry.

The biggest question mark is the status of University of Nebraska-bound receiver Chase, who leads the Titans with 878 yards receiving and 13 touchdown catches.

Chase, the state’s third-ranked overall senior recruit, was injured on the first play from scrimmage in last week’s semifinal win over Puyallup. He attemped to re-enter the game several times but hobbled off, according to The Columbian.

“He got dinged up a little bit, but we feel pretty good about where he’s at and fully anticipate him being able to go Saturday,” Rosenbach told The Herald during a Tuesday phone interview.

LAKE STEVENS DEFENSE

The Vikings have posted three shutouts and allow just 16.3 points and 262 yards per game. Lake Stevens’ ball-hawking unit has forced 30 turnovers and returned five interceptions for touchdowns.

The Vikings’ defense has especially proven its mettle the past two weeks, shutting down Graham-Kapowsin and Woodinville en route to the title game.

In the state quarterfinal, Lake Stevens held Graham-Kapowsin and University of Washington-bound quarterback Dylan Morris to just 14 points until late in the fourth quarter. And in last week’s semifinal, the Vikings forced three turnovers and limited Woodinville to a season-low 14 points and just 241 total yards.

“They’re really sound on defense,” Rosenbach said.

Kinchen, a three-star cornerback with an offer from the University of Oregon, is a lockdown force in the secondary with a team-high seven interceptions.

The linebacking corps is led by Harris and Junior Robinson, who have combined for seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

Brandyn Roberts, a senior, anchors a talented defensive line with eight sacks and two forced fumbles. The Vikings have totaled 33 sacks.

“Their D-line play is really, really good,” Rosenbach said. “… They’re really going to challenge us up front on both sides of the ball.”

LAKE STEVENS SPECIAL TEAMS

Senior kicker Brock Widmann has converted 83 of 87 extra-point attempts and all four field-goal attempts, with a long of 26 yards.

UNION SPECIAL TEAMS

Chase is a threat in the return game, having taken back both a kickoff and punt for touchdowns.

Senior kickers Christian Alcorn and Alex Koga are a combined 60-of-64 on extra-point attempts and 2-of-6 on field-goal attempts. Alcorn hit a 41-yard field goal.

— — — — —

CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

No. 1 Union vs. No. 3 Lake Stevens

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tacoma Dome

TV: ROOT Sports

Radio: KRKO 1380 AM

LAKE STEVENS (13-0)

Week 1: beat Ferndale 42-14

Week 2: beat Lincoln 38-21

Week 3: beat Monroe 49-31

Week 4: beat Mount Vernon 30-7

Week 5: beat Kamiak 58-0

Week 6: beat Glacier Peak 24-21

Week 7: beat Cascade 69-20

Week 8: beat Jackson 70-0

Week 9: beat Mariner 62-14

Week 10 playoffs: beat Kentlake 56-0

State first round: beat Curtis 56-42

State quarterfinals: beat Graham-Kapowsin 45-28

State semifinals: beat Woodinville 28-14

UNION (13-0)

Week 1: beat Mountain View 17-14

Week 2: beat El Cerrito (Calif.) 34-29

Week 3: beat Eastlake 43-18

Week 4: beat Chiawana 41-9

Week 5: beat Puyallup 38-31

Week 6: beat Skyview 21-15

Week 7: beat Heritage 34-0

Week 8: beat Battle Ground 49-7

Week 9: beat Camas 14-7

Week 10 playoffs: beat Enumclaw 55-37

State first round: beat Skyline 50-10

State quarterfinals: beat Bothell 49-35

State semifinals: beat Puyallup 35-28

LAKE STEVENS STAT LEADERS

PASSING

Tre Long: 116 comp., 230 att., 2522 yards, 31 TD, 3 INT

RUSHING

Dallas Landeros: 171 carries, 1306 yards, 7.6 avg., 11 TD

Tom Lewis: 79 carries, 725 yards, 9.2 avg., 13 TD

Tre Long: 75 carries, 451 yards, 6.0 avg., 12 TD

RECEIVING

Kasen Kinchen: 41 rec., 927 yards, 22.6 avg., 12 TD

Ian Hanson: 54 rec., 902 yards, 16.7 avg., 9 TD

UNION STAT LEADERS

PASSING

Lincoln Victor: 154 comp., 219 att., 2214 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT

RUSHING

Jojo Siofele: 120 carries, 833 yards, 6.9 avg., 8 TD

Lincoln Victor: 77 carries, 720 yards, 9.4 avg., 10 TD

Nile Jones: 144 carries, 632 yards, 4.4 avg., 12 TD

Isaiah Jones: 60 carries, 424 yards, 7.1 avg., 4 TD

RECEIVING

Darien Chase: 60 rec., 878 yards, 13 TD

Jojo Siofele: 48 rec., 688 yards, 7 TD

Alex Vallejo: 27 rec., 418 yards, 1 TD

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