ARLINGTON — Sure, it wasn’t full-contact 11-man football played under the bright lights of a Friday night. High school football teams still have to wait another five-plus weeks for that.
But for late July, this was about as competitive and intense as it gets.
Some of the state’s top prep football teams and recruits took the field Saturday at Lakewood High School, which played host to the 12th annual Cougars Championship Passing Tournament.
“These kinds of things are really beneficial, (because) you get some game-time experience,” said Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri, whose Vikings were among the tournament’s 16 teams.
“Even though it’s not really a game, the kids are playing full-speed, they’re going as hard as they can (and) they’re running our stuff, our terminology, on both sides of the ball.”
Split between Lakewood’s turf football and baseball fields, the 7-on-7 games were played on shortened fields with modified rules.
Teams started at the 40-yard line and had three downs to pick up 15 yards. Once they reached the 10-yard line, they had four downs to score. Quarterbacks had to throw the ball within 4 seconds, and players were ruled down by one-hand touch. Games consisted of two 17-minute running-clock halves, with two additional plays added to the end of each half.
Each team played three pool-play games, which were used to seed teams for the single-elimination portion of the tournament.
Music blared from the stadium speakers throughout the day, providing added energy to an already-competitive atmosphere.
“I know there’s some coaches that say, ‘Hey, 7-on-7 isn’t real football. There’s no rushing,’” said Lakewood coach Dan Teeter, who organized the event. “Yeah, that’s true, but we’re competing … and we’re actually playing catch and working on our concepts, so I think it’s tremendous for us.”
University of Washington-bound quarterback Sam Huard led Kennedy Catholic to the tournament title with a 52-35 win over Bothell in the championship game.
Huard, the son of former UW and NFL quarterback Damon Huard, is the nation’s top-ranked quarterback recruit for the 2021 class. The polished lefty passer was among a handful of elite recruits competing in Saturday’s tournament.
“Talent all over the place and quality programs,” Teeter said. “… It does definitely bring some prestige to it, and we enjoy having the opportunity to play against those guys and just kind of measure ourselves.”
For Kennedy Catholic, the 7-on-7 title-game victory served as a bit of revenge for last year’s 59-41 non-league loss to Bothell in Week 2. The two teams meet again this season in a Sept. 14 clash.
A similar dynamic occurred between Lake Stevens and Lincoln.
Last year, the Vikings rolled to a 38-21 non-league win over Lincoln in Week 2. But the Abes returned the favor Saturday, beating Lake Stevens 45-28 in the quarterfinals of the 7-on-7 tournament. The two teams will square off again Sept. 13.
Tri said facing Lincoln’s ultra-talented athletes Saturday was invaluable as the Vikings prepare for the upcoming season — and their Week 2 rematch against the Abes.
“You find out what true speed and athleticism is,” Tri said. “You don’t quite get that same speed and athleticism in Wesco. They had two or three receivers that were 6-foot-3 (and) as fast as any of our guys.
“We always talk about making adjustments to game speed. Well, how do you simulate that in practice? How do you simulate covering a guy that’s three inches taller than you and runs four-tenths faster than you in a (40-yard dash)?
“Until you get out and practice against it and compete against it, it’s hard to make those adjustments.”
Lake Stevens raced to a 14-0 lead over Lincoln after Skyler Reyna returned an interception for a touchdown, but the Abes rallied to tie the game at 21 with a 40-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first half. Lincoln then built a two-touchdown advantage in the second half that the Vikings were unable to overcome.
“You find out kind of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a coach and as players,” Tri said. “You wouldn’t know what those were if you didn’t come out and compete in these games.”
The day’s most exciting finish came in the quarterfinal contest between Lakewood and North Creek.
Trailing 14-7 with two plays remaining, Lakewood quarterback Jared Taylor completed a 15-yard pass to move the ball to the 25-yard line. Taylor then heaved a pass to the end zone on the ensuing play, and Morgan Stacey came down with the catch in traffic for the game-tying touchdown.
Per tournament rules, the Cougars then had the option of running a point-after-touchdown play from the 3-yard line. A conversion would’ve given them one point and the win, while a failed attempt would’ve subtracted one point and handed them a loss.
Lakewood elected to attempt the PAT and go for the win, but its ensuing pass was ruled incomplete and North Creek advanced to the semifinals with a 14-13 victory.
“It was intense and exciting,” Teeter said. “We were like, ‘We’re going for the win right now.’ And we would do the same thing again. We would go for the win every time.
“You want to be in a position where you’re in the game on the last play, which we were,” he added, “so I was really proud of how our guys competed all throughout the day against bigger schools.”
In the other quarterfinal matchups, Bothell beat Arlington 45-21 and Kennedy Catholic defeated King’s 45-21. In the semifinals, Kennedy Catholic topped Lincoln 31-24 and Bothell defeated North Creek 24-7.
The event also featured a lineman challenge, which included a bench-press competition, a two-man sled push and pull, a tire-flip relay, a six-man sled drive, a tug-of-war competition and 4×100-meter relay races.
North Creek won the lineman challenge and Lake Stevens took second place.