As spectacular as last season was for the Lake Stevens High School football team, the ending was a particularly painful one.
After taking a perfect record into the Class 4A state title game and building a 20-14 second-quarter lead, the Vikings’ championship dream unraveled in nightmarish fashion. Lake Stevens’ high-powered offense suddenly faltered and its stout defense simply couldn’t stop Union, which rattled off 38 unanswered points to hand the Vikings a crushing 52-20 loss.
It’s been nearly nine months since that December night in the Tacoma Dome. Yet while they long ago turned the page, the Vikings say that title-game defeat has provided extra motivation as they embark on what they hope will be another run toward state glory.
“It’s just fueled the fire for the team,” Lake Stevens senior two-way standout Joe Gonzales said. “Getting close and not making it all the way, you just want that so bad, and it’s a feeling of revenge almost. We want to get back there. We want to experience it again and come out with a win.”
With a slew of talent returning from last year’s state runner-up squad, expectations are high for the Vikings — even by the standards of a perennial powerhouse Lake Stevens program that’s won six consecutive Wesco 4A titles and reached the state quarterfinals in three of the past four seasons.
“We definitely know what we’re capable of,” standout senior offensive lineman Logan Bruce said. “We definitely know we can make another run at it. … It’s always exciting to have high expectations, because we know what we can do.”
The big question mark for the Vikings is whether standout left tackle Devin Kylany can make a late-season return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered during February’s state wrestling tournament. Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said he’s optimistic the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Washington State University-bound senior will be back in time for the postseason, or perhaps even sooner.
If so, Kylany could team with Bruce, Wyatt Hall and Austyn Rembold-Hyde to give the Vikings four returning starters from last year’s dominant offensive line, which paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged a whopping 7.6 yards per carry and 250 yards per game.
Bruce is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound left guard with a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy, and Hall is set to be a four-year starting center. Hall also is nursing an injury, but Tri said he hopes to have him back “sooner than later.”
With Kylany out for at least most of the regular season, Lake Stevens is taking a next-man-up approach.
“Everyone’s gotta be a leader now,” Bruce said. “The young guys gotta step up. I gotta step up. We’ve gotta fill Devin’s spot so we can make another run, and hopefully he’ll be back by the playoffs.”
Elsewhere on offense, the Vikings return a plethora of skill-position players from an attack that averaged more than 43 points per game last season.
Lake Stevens has a wealth of options at wideout, with five of its top six receivers back. The deep and talented group is led by two-way senior standout Kasen Kinchen, who totaled 1,051 yards receiving and 13 touchdown catches last year. And in the backfield, senior running back Dallas Landeros returns after rushing for a team-high 1,372 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“As the offensive coordinator, I’m having a tough time trying to get the ball to all our weapons,” Tri said. “… But what a great problem to have.”
Distributing the ball to those playmakers likely will be 6-foot-4 junior quarterback Tanner Jellison, who replaces standout Tre Long. The expected first-year starter has big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of recent Lake Stevens star quarterbacks Jacob Eason, Conor Bardue and Long. But the Vikings are confident in Jellison’s abilities.
“He doesn’t look like a first-year guy,” Tri said. “He’s directing traffic. He’s reading coverages. He’s getting the ball (out) on time. I love his delivery. He’s accurate. He throws a great deep ball.
“He’s still working on some things,” Tri added, “but for a guy that hasn’t ever started a game for us, we’re really excited about him.”
On defense, Lake Stevens is anchored by senior linebacker Junior Robinson and a talented secondary headlined by three-star recruits Kinchen and Gonzales.
Kinchen, a highly ranked cornerback who intercepted seven passes last season, has Pac-12 offers from Oregon and Cal. Gonzales, a 6-foot-3 safety, has offers from several Ivy League schools. Tri also lauded junior cornerback Gabe Ramsey and 6-foot-3 sophomore safety Drew Carter, among others in the secondary.
According to Kinchen, the defensive backs even have their own nickname: the “Den of Thieves.” It’s an appropriate one, given that the Vikings forced 32 turnovers last season and returned five interceptions for touchdowns.
Tri said Lake Stevens’ most inexperienced position group is the defensive line. But because of the Vikings’ talented secondary, Tri said they should have the flexibility to adjust their coverages and bring up a defensive back if the run defense needs some extra help.
“If we’re a four-deep team (in the secondary) but we’re having a hard time stopping the run,” he said, “we can find a way to go three deep, bring an extra guy up in the box… and still feel like we’re covered well enough on the back end.”
Lake Stevens’ quest to make it back to the Tacoma Dome begins with non-league tests against Ferndale and 3A power Lincoln, followed by its Wesco 4A opener against rival Monroe.
“This is a revenge tour for us,” Bruce said. “We want it all. We want the whole thing. We ain’t looking back. We’re going forward.”