SNOHOMISH — With its standout quarterback watching from the sideline on crutches, the Lake Stevens football team pivoted from its usual spread offense to a Wildcat rushing attack.
And though it was a bit strange to see the Vikings hardly put the ball in the air all night, the end result was awfully familiar.
And another league crown.
Jayden Limar totaled 254 yards from scrimmage, Trayce Hanks scored three second-half touchdowns and Class 4A second-ranked Lake Stevens captured its eighth consecutive Wesco 4A title with a 34-28 win over eighth-ranked Glacier Peak in Friday night’s de facto league championship game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“They’re a dang good football team,” Vikings coach Tom Tri said of the Grizzlies. “They came ready to play. We knew that was gonna happen. But our guys have just been resilient all year.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens (7-0, 4-0 Wesco 4A) extended its conference win streak to 50 games. The Vikings haven’t lost a Wesco 4A contest since falling to Mount Vernon on Oct. 4, 2013.
“Our reputation is to win Wesco every year, and that’s because of our great coaches,” Limar said. “… They do an amazing job. Without them, we wouldn’t do what we do.”
Lake Stevens was playing its first game without starting senior quarterback Grayson Murren, who has a fractured leg, according to Tri. Murren had been highly efficient this season, completing 73.1% of his passes for 1,291 yards, 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Sophomore backup Kaden LaPlaunt, who entered the game having attempted just four passes all year, started in place of Murren. But after LaPlaunt threw an interception on the Vikings’ first possession, they switched to a Wildcat package with Limar at quarterback and ran that for most of the night.
“We realized that (Limar) was our best quarterback and that they were struggling to stop it,” Tri said.
Lake Stevens rushed for 307 yards on 51 carries, with most of its yardage coming out of the Wildcat. It was an especially impressive performance, considering the Vikings had only been practicing their Wildcat package for a few days.
Tri and his coaching staff decided to install the Wildcat this past Sunday. But Limar, an ultra-talented four-star running back, was at Notre Dame on a recruiting visit over the weekend. He was supposed to be back for Monday’s practice, but his flight got delayed.
“We had to wait until Tuesday before we could even really start putting this package together,” Tri said. “So we only had about three days.
“We ran plays tonight that we didn’t even practice before, just because we didn’t have enough versatility in our Wildcat package to,” Tri added. “I mean, you can only run the same play so many times. … And so I was making stuff up on the fly, literally, and yelling it and screaming it.”
Limar, who has scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, ran for 204 yards on 26 carries. He also scored on a 50-yard screen pass.
“We asked Jayden to play literally three different positions (on offense tonight),” Tri said. “… I’m just dumbfounded by his versatility.”
Versatile senior playmaker Trayce Hanks, who moved from running back to receiver this season, added 94 yards from scrimmage and three TDs on 10 offensive touches — with most of his damage coming on fly sweeps. And talented freshman Jayshon Limar, Jayden’s younger brother, chipped in 57 yards and a TD on 10 carries.
“We wanted to keep the ball in Jayden’s hands and let our leaders be leaders, and that’s exactly what they did tonight,” Tri said. “… And I’ve gotta give credit to our O-line. That whole front five just did an amazing job.”
After Glacier Peak (6-2, 2-1) rallied to take a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter, the Vikings responded with three consecutive second-half touchdown drives.
Senior receiver Drew Carter extended the first of those drives by running for 21 yards on a fourth-and-6 reverse. Two plays later, Hanks took a sweep and sped for a 9-yard TD to give Lake Stevens a 20-14 lead.
The Grizzlies answered right back, marching downfield and regaining a one-point edge on a 2-yard TD run by senior Trey Leckner.
But once again, the Vikings had a quick response. Jayden Limar kickstarted the drive with a 47-yard gain on a Wildcat keeper. And two plays later, Hanks took a reverse around the left edge and raced for a 37-yard TD, giving Lake Stevens a 26-21 lead with less than 2 minutes to play in the third quarter.
Then after the Vikings’ defense forced a three-and-out, Hanks struck a third time. The speedy receiver hauled in a short third-down pass near the left sideline and expertly used a block to race inside the pylon for a 26-yard TD, stretching the margin to 34-21 with 8:25 to play.
But just when it seemed Lake Stevens was in the clear, the Grizzlies clawed back.
On a fourth-and-18 midway through the fourth quarter, Glacier Peak junior quarterback River Lien found senior Jadon Claps for a 24-yard TD pass that cut the deficit to 34-28.
The Grizzlies then forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at their own 35-yard line with 4:14 to play. Glacier Peak moved to its own 49, but a holding penalty and a sack ultimately killed the drive. Faced with a fourth-and-27, the Grizzlies punted the ball away with 2:27 to go.
They never got the ball back.
On the ensuing snap, Jayshon Limar rumbled for a 17-yard gain. And a few plays later on a fourth-and-1, the Vikings turned to him again. Jayshon Limar was hit behind the line of scrimmage on the handoff, but spun out of the attempted tackle and fought his way past the first-down line for a game-sealing 1-yard run.
Lake Stevens then ran out the clock and celebrated yet another conference title.
“It’s great carrying out a legacy,” Jayden Limar said. “A lot of people that I grew up with — like (former Lake Stevens players) Logan Bruce and Kasen Kinchen — they kept the legacy going. And I was very glad that we could just keep doing it.”
The Limar brothers provided both of the Vikings’ first-half touchdowns. Jayshon Limar opened the scoring with a 10-yard TD run in the first quarter. And in the opening minute of the second quarter, Jayden Limar caught a screen pass over the middle and raced down the left sideline for a 50-yard TD and a 13-0 lead.
“He’s just absolutely special,” Glacier Peak coach Shane Keck said of Jayden Limar, who is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 7 junior running back recruit in the nation.
The Grizzlies got on the board later in the second quarter, when Lien powered into the end zone for a 3-yard TD on a fourth-and-goal keeper.
Early in the third quarter, Glacier Peak senior defensive lineman Jacob Erickson intercepted a screen pass and returned it to the Lake Stevens 4. Two plays later, Leckner ran for a 2-yard TD to give the Grizzlies a 14-13 lead. That was the first of four lead changes in the back-and-forth third quarter.
Tri said his team’s 35-28 win over upstart Kamiak last week helped the Vikings handle the adversity of two third-quarter deficits against Glacier Peak.
“That was an important game for us, because we didn’t panic,” Tri said. “We had some adversity (and) we just kept doing our thing. … I think that really helped us this week (by) not really worrying about the score — just keep playing (and) keep doing your job.”
The Grizzlies also mixed up their offense, running out of a double wing formation instead of their usual spread attack for parts of the second half. Leckner led Glacier Peak with 124 yards from scrimmage, including 93 yards and two TDs on 19 carries. However, the Grizzlies finished with just 248 total yards.
“I thought it was pretty sloppy on our end, but I think we gave ourselves a chance there at the end of the game,” Keck said. “… We had our chances. We just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Both teams now await their matchups for next week’s Week 10 winner-to-state round. This year, the matchups will be determined by a seeding committee.
Despite the loss, Keck said he was optimistic about his team’s chances going forward.
“At (this) point, we’re on to a new season, because everybody’s got the same record,” Keck said. “We feel if that’s the number two team in the state and realistically we had a chance to win right there, I think we’re as good as anybody.”
For the Vikings, their victory was validation that they can still beat state playoff-caliber teams without their standout quarterback.
“We’ve got this,” Jayden Limar said. “I know our team. We can pull it off no matter what.”