Lake Stevens overcomes miscues for 21-17 victory
By AARON COE
EDMONDS — A Friday night of near perfection from quarterback Nolan Perkl sent the Lake Stevens Vikings to the state quarterfinals with a 21-17 victory over Mercer Island.
The senior quarterback completed 17 of 24 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown at Edmonds Stadium in a first round playoff contest.
The passing game was nearly unstoppable, and the Vikings (9-1) looked like they could have scored at will if not for three first-half turnovers. Lake Stevens next plays Saturday, facing the winner of today’s Tumwater-O’Dea game.
It was the Vikings’ big defensive plays that fought off an equally potent Mercer Island offense and ended the ninth-ranked Islanders’ season at 8-2.
Justin Balunsat entered the game with 14 seconds remaining to fill in for an injured Lake Stevens cornerback. The junior intercepted a pass after it was tipped by a Mercer Island player, and went down at his own 2-yard line to preserve the victory.
"I saw it was tipped, and then it just fell into my hands," said Balunsat, who also rushed for 18 yards and kicked three extra points. "It felt like forever for the ball to get there. I knew I had a guy behind me, so that made it even slower."
Matt Williams intercepted a Mercer Island pass on the Islanders’ previous drive and returned it 57 yards. Williams, who nearly scored, but was tripped up at the Mercer Island 24, also contributed on offense with 62 yards on 17 carries.
Lake Stevens coach Ken Collins isn’t a big fan of throwing the ball, but with the Islanders stacked up at the line to stop Williams, Collins put the game in the hands of Perkl.
"They gave us the flat all night long, so we had to go there," said Collins. "Nolan did a great job of throwing the ball."
Perkl, who threw the winning touchdown pass to Nik Williams with 8:47 remaining in the game, benefited from some leaping catches by his senior receiver, who caught seven passes for 99 yards. Perkl credited his offensive line for giving him the time he needed to throw.
"They’ve got eight guys every time coming after us, and the line picked them up every time," Perkl said. "I love my line. They did a great job."
It was evident in the early stages of the game that both teams could move the ball, but turnovers kept the score 7-7 at halftime.
Lake Stevens and Mercer Island combined for three turnovers on consecutive possessions in the first eight minutes of the game.
Lake Stevens moved the ball with relative ease, but fumbled on each of its first three possessions — one of which led to a 7-0 Mercer Island lead near the end of the opening quarter.
The Vikings found the end zone three times in the first half, but only once did it count.
A Lake Stevens player was separated from the ball just before he crossed the goal line on the Vikings’ first drive, and Mercer Island recovered in the end zone.
Balunsat ran 20 yards for an apparent score early in the second quarter, but a holding call wiped the points off the scoreboard. The Vikings then turned it over on the next play.
"We had some adversity in the first half," Collins said. "I’m really proud of my kids for hanging in there."
A fingertip grab by Nik Williams of a Perkl pass at the Mercer Island 1-yard line set up a TD plunge by his twin brother, Matt Williams, to tie the score at 7.
"When we got the touchdown, we knew we could drive all night on them," Collins said. "It was just a matter of staying focused and eliminating those mistakes."
Mercer Island took a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter with a 38-yard field goal by Justin Hogan, who also completed 10 of 21 passes for 196 yards.
Hogan’s ensuing kickoff pinned Lake Stevens at its own 10-yard line, but Perkl was not deterred, even after a penalty backed the Vikings up to the 5. Perkl was 5-for-5 for 66 yards leading up to Matt Williams’ 3-yard TD run that put Lake Stevens ahead 14-10.
Mercer Island took the lead back with a 54-yard TD reception by Brandon Burmeister to make it 17-14 late in the third quarter.
MI—Hogan 4 run (Hogan kick)
LS—M. Williams 1 run (Balunsat kick)
MI—Hogan 38 FG.
LS—M. Williams 3 run (Balunsat kick)
MI—Burmeister 54 pass from Hogan (Hogan kick)
LS—N. Williams 4 pass from Perkl (Balunsat kick)
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