TACOMA — No, Saturday’s Class 4A high school state championship football game didn’t go the way the Lake Stevens Vikings wanted.
But here’s a nice consolation for Lake Stevens: The future is bright for the Vikings.
Lake Stevens’ quest for the first football state championship in school history came up just short due to a humbling 44-7 loss to Graham-Kapowsin on Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School. But rest assured, Saturday’s result may merely be an appetizer for what could be an impending feast.
Here’s why. Lake Stevens’ varsity roster had 62 players listed. Of those 62, only 12 were seniors. Eighty-one percent of this team was underclassmen.
Yes, many of those 12 seniors were central players for the Vikings. Quarterback Grayson Murren was having an incredible season before his campaign was derailed by injury. The wide receiver/defensive back duo of Drew Carter and Trayce Hanks was invaluable for its playmaking ability. Guys like Madison Wynkoop, Dylan Slezak and Colby Easterling were less heralded, but they were important factors on both sides of the ball.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of this senior group,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said following Saturday’s game. “We only had 12 of them and I just felt all year they overachieved. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, I mean that in a really positive way in that they got better every week, they provided the leadership, they provided the energy we needed to get us to this point. I’m just very pleased and pleasantly surprised at how far this senior group was able to carry this team.”
However, the Vikings have a ton of players returning next year. That includes the team’s top offensive weapon in running back Jayden Limar, as well as four of the team’s five starting offensive linemen.
According to game participation report provided by the WIAA — which is clearly incomplete — Lake Stevens fielded 21 different players in the title game. That included Murren, who was out injured, but apparently merited a spot based on his presence on the field for the opening coin toss. Of those 21, 14 were underclassmen.
And by underclassmen, we’re not just talking about a bunch of juniors (though juniors like Limar, linebackers Joe McGinnis and TK Perkins, lineman Ashten Hendrickson and several others played key roles). Three freshmen played for Lake Stevens on Satuday, and they didn’t just play bit parts, they were factors for significant stretches of the season. Kolton Matson was forced to step in at quarterback for Murren and all he did was win two playoff games. Limar’s “little” brother Jayshon also had big games at running back in the postseason, and oh yeah he already has a Pac-12 scholarship offer. And Cassidy Belong-Banks became a fixture in the secondary.
“I’m extremely pleased at the amount of young kids that really stepped up,” said Tri, “from Cassidy Belong-Banks who started for us for more than half the season, to Jayshon Limar obviously having a huge impact running the ball and on specials and just being the versatile guy that he was for us, then Kolton Matson stepping up at quarterback for us and going 2-1 in playoff games as a freshman. Those are pretty good stats, I’d say.”
The obvious takeaway from Saturday’s game was that Graham-Kapowsin was just bigger and stronger than the Vikings. With a line that featured several 270-pound-plus linemen who are headed to NCAA Division I schools, the Eagles were able to push around the smaller Vikings, opening huge holes for Graham-Kapowsin ball carriers to gain an astounding 524 yards on the ground.
But here’s the thing about high school players: They’re still growing. Lake Stevens has so many players returning, and they’re going to have another full year to grow, physically mature and work out in the weight room. It seems a lock that next year’s Vikings will be bigger and stronger than this year’s were.
“We have a lot of guys coming back,” Tri said. “We were young. We lose some critical players, but we feel like we have a lot of guys coming back that we can build a good, solid program from and continue to strive to win that state championship again.”
Lake Stevens hasn’t had much luck in state championship games to date. The Vikings are batting 0-for-4 when playing for the state title, including defeats in two of the past three full seasons.
But given the Vikings’ outlook for the seasons to come, odds are Lake Stevens will receive another crack at getting over that state championship hump sooner rather than later.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.