Ever since its championship dream was crushed by Union in the Tacoma Dome last December, the Lake Stevens High School football team has been on a mission to make it back to the state title game.
As standout offensive lineman Logan Bruce said in August just prior to the season: “This is a revenge tour for us. We want it all. We want the whole thing.”
So perhaps it’s fitting that in order to achieve their ultimate goal, the Vikings must first get past the team that handed them a 52-20 defeat in last year’s Class 4A state championship game.
No. 3 seed Lake Stevens hosts No. 14 seed Union in a title-game rematch Saturday afternoon in the opening round of the 4A state playoffs, with the winner advancing to next week’s state quarterfinals.
“We were all pretty excited, because they were the last team to beat us — and in a big game too,” Vikings two-way senior standout Kasen Kinchen said of his team’s reaction to its first-round matchup. “… It doesn’t matter who we play — we would still prepare the same. But it’s just good to be able to play the team that beat us in the championship.”
Both teams entered last year’s state title game unbeaten and were evenly matched for much of the first half. But the Vikings’ quest for their first-ever state crown quickly unraveled after that, as Union reeled off 38 unanswered points to hand Lake Stevens its only loss of the past two seasons.
“A lot of us were excited just to be able to get a rematch and a revenge game,” Vikings two-way senior standout Joe Gonzales said. “… Being able to play (the) team that did that to us last year, it’s big. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
This year’s Union team is quite different from last year’s version. The Titans graduated 14 all-league players from their state championship squad, including dual-threat star quarterback Lincoln Victor, their top two running backs and top four receivers.
Union (6-4) hasn’t racked up as many wins this season, but the Titans have once again played an arduous schedule. Union has faced five 4A state-playoff teams, going 1-4 in those matchups. The Titans earned a one-point win over No. 6 seed Chiawana, lost by one point to No. 7 Puyallup and fell by double digits to No. 2 Camas, No. 9 Skyview and No. 10 Eastlake.
“Best 6-4 team in the state, maybe the nation,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said of Union. “They’re solid all the way across the board. … This is going to be a tough first-round opponent.”
The Vikings, meanwhile, are in the midst of another dominant campaign.
Loaded with talent at seemingly every position group, Lake Stevens (10-0) has outscored opponents by 49.5 points per game. The Vikings’ juggernaut offense churns out nearly 530 yards per contest with a balanced mix of run and pass, while their stingy defense has posted five shutouts and allows just 7.7 points per game.
“I feel like we’re still peaking,” Tri said. “I feel like we’re still getting better, and that’s a great feeling to have, because we’ve had a ton of success already. But I feel like we can still get better.
“We’re still working on some of the finite details of just spacing and angles and finishing with our feet. … We’ve had that success, but at the same time, I feel like our guys are still hungry and getting after it and getting better every day.”
As dominant as they’ve been, the Vikings are likely to receive an added boost Saturday with the return of Washington State University-bound senior offensive lineman Devin Kylany, who’s expected to make his season debut.
Kylany, the fourth-ranked senior offensive lineman in the state according to 247Sports, has been sidelined all season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered during February’s state wrestling tournament.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman said his recovery involved lots of physical therapy and training, as well as an ACL bridge program that helps athletes transition from physical therapy to the level of conditioning necessary to return to their sport.
Kylany said his first contact practice was last week and that he was cleared by his doctor earlier this week to play Saturday. It will be his first game since facing Union in last year’s state championship.
“It’s almost surreal thinking that last time I played a football game was against Union, so sometimes I have to come back in and out of a dream,” Kylany said. “It’s beyond exciting.”
Kylany’s return adds another overpowering force to Lake Stevens’ dominant offensive line, which also includes three-star recruit Bruce and four-year starting center Wyatt Hall. Even without its Pac-12-bound left tackle, the powerful line has paved the way for a rushing attack that averages 8.6 yards per carry and 253 yards per game.
“We’re excited to have him back … and see what he can do out there on Saturday,” Tri said. “It’s huge.”
Tri said earlier this week that he also expects lead running back Dallas Landeros to return after missing last week’s winner-to-state contest. Tri said standout linebacker Junior Robinson, who suffered an injury in last week’s game, likely will be sidelined Saturday.
Union, meanwhile, lost University of Idaho-bound dual-threat quarterback Caleb Jordan to a season-ending injury three weeks ago. Backup quarterback Alex Gehrmann has filled in for the Titans, completing 66% of his passes over the past three weeks for 785 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
Saturday will mark the latest encounter between Tri and Union coach Rory Rosenbach, who developed a close friendship during the latter’s tenure as Glacier Peak’s coach from 2008 through 2015. Both coaches run similar spread offenses and have met in the past to pick each other’s brains.
“Watching them on film reminds me of watching us,” Tri said. “They have different colors on and different guys, but you can see a lot of similarities in what they’re doing and what we’re doing.”
While redemption for last year’s title-game defeat certainly is on the Vikings’ minds, Tri and several players stressed the importance of keeping the same mindset they’ve had all season.
“We’ve been preaching all year: ‘It’s not about them. It’s about us,’” Tri said. “And so we’ve tried to keep that same mentality this week.”