Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson, holding the game ball, begins celebrating moments after taking a knee to end his team’s Class 4A state championship victory over Kennedy Catholic on Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson, holding the game ball, begins celebrating moments after taking a knee to end his team’s Class 4A state championship victory over Kennedy Catholic on Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Patterson: QB Matson ‘had that dawg in him’ during Lake Stevens’ state title win

The sophomore quarterback’s growth since last year’s championship loss was the biggest difference for the Vikings on offense this time around.

TACOMA — One by one I asked Kolton Matson’s teammates about their starting quarterback, and one by one they all provided the exact same response:

He. Is. A. Dawg.

The Lake Stevens High School football team made history Saturday when it defeated Kennedy Catholic 24-22 in the Class 4A state championship game at Mount Tahoma High School to earn the school’s first-ever football state title. And perhaps no Vikings player “had that dawg in him” more than Matson.

Matson, Lake Stevens’ sophomore quarterback, demurred to teammate Jayden Limar when it came to plaudits following Saturday’s game, and rightly so. Limar, the Vikings’ senior running back, was the game’s biggest star as he rushed for 186 yards. Heck, when I asked KRKO broadcasters Tom Lafferty and Joel Vincent — who have more than 60 years combined of watching Wesco football up close and personal between them — about Limar before the game, they put the Notre Dame-bound rusher in their top-five Wesco players they ever saw.

But the biggest difference between Saturday’s victory and last year’s 44-7 humbling in the state title game against Graham-Kapowsin? At least offensively it was the play of Matson. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Matson was an efficient 14-for-23 for 182 yards against the Lancers, and he twice threw touchdown passes that gave the Vikings the lead.

“Everybody did their job, and I felt like I did my job,” was Matson’s assessment of his own performance. “Everyone was relying on me to come out here and do my job as the quarterback, to lead my team and call the shots and get it done.”

“He’s a dawg,” senior tight end Cole Becker, who caught the second of those TD passes, said in response. “He was slinging the ball around the field, he ran when he needed to, he was so clutch. I was so happy he was our quarterback this year.”

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson makes a pass over the middle against Kennedy Catholic during the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson makes a pass over the middle against Kennedy Catholic during the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When people refer to an athlete colloquially as a “dawg,” they generally mean someone who displays grit and mental toughness. That describes Matson’s performance Saturday to a T, especially when put into the context of a year ago.

Last year Matson was supposed to spend the entire season on the sidelines holding a clipboard, watching and learning behind senior Grayson Murren. However, Murren suffered a pair of injuries, forcing a freshman Matson to start three playoff games. Matson performed admirably in two wins, but it wasn’t a fair fight in the title tilt when the inexperienced freshman was pitted against a swarming Graham-Kapowsin defense loaded with college talent. He was harried into a 6-for-13 night for just 43 yards and an interception.

But the sophomore Matson is not the same player as the freshman Matson.

Kennedy Catholic pressured Matson similarly to the way Graham-Kapowsin did a year earlier, sacking Matson five times. But you know one characteristic of the conventional “dog?” It’s a short memory. On Saturday Matson wasn’t affected by the memories of last year’s horror show in the state title game. He wasn’t thrown by the memories of specific moments, such as in the second quarter when he fumbled while being sacked and the Lancers ran it back for a touchdown. He picked himself up, dusted himself off and responded by leading the Vikings on an 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 16-yard TD pass to Isaac Redford on third-and-15, giving Lake Stevens a 14-7 lead.

“Last year he was a freshman against Graham-Kapowsin in the rain and the wind, and he was trying to help us, but he knew it was going to be tough,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. “You could see he was real tight, he was nervous. This year he was much more poised, much more relaxed. I’ll tell you what, they put every bit as much pressure on him as Graham-Kapowsin did last year, but he just didn’t let it bother him. ‘Hey, next play coach. Yeah, I know I screwed up the last play, what’s the next one?’ I could tell he was a lot more relaxed and a lot more dialed into the game.”

“This guy, he leads us, and age doesn’t matter on this team,” the senior Redford said. “When we need a play he makes it happen. He memorized the playbook from the jump. He was as hungry as we were because he played in this atmosphere last year. He knew what he had to do and wanted to win it for us seniors, wanted to win it for the team, wanted to do it for the town. It’s just a blessing to have someone like that on our team.”

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson drops back to pass against Kennedy Catholic during the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens quarterback Kolton Matson drops back to pass against Kennedy Catholic during the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lake Stevens has a long a storied history of quarterbacking excellence, from Jake Nelson to Jacob Eason to Conor Bardue to Tre Long. But now Matson has something none of his predecessors possess: a championship ring.

And here’s the kicker, he still has a long way to go, as he gets two more chances to add to his title tally. Sure, the Vikings lose Limar, along with several other key seniors. But Matson has offensive weapons returning, most notably gamebreaking sophomore Cassidy Bolong-Banks. In addition, Limar’s younger brother, Jayshon, also a sophomore, will be back after missing most of this season because of injury.

“I think we still have a dynasty rolling,” Matson said. “We have some dawgs in my class, so it will be good next year, too, as long as we bounce back with the same mentality we have now.”

Indeed, Matson may have won Lake Stevens its first football state title, but it may not be the last. He and his dawgs still have a lot more woofing to do.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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