For the second time in the past three seasons Lake Stevens came from double-digits down in the fourth quarter to take a four-point win from Edmonds-Woodway with the Wesco 4A football title on the line.
Last Friday at home Lake won by 53-49. Two seasons ago it was 35-31, and last year, with third place in Wesco 4A at stake, Lake won by 31-27 (also coming from behind in that game).
This time Lake trailed by 11 points on four different occasions, including by 49-38 with 7:56 left in the game. Lake, behind a record-shattering passing performance by sophomore quarterback Jason Eason, then rallied to score two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the fnal 5:56, including a game-winning seven-yard toss to Tevin Gray with 39 seconds left.
That last-gasp TD polished off Eason's evening consisting of 36 completions in 49 attempts, with no interceptions, for 504 yards and six touchdowns. The yardage obliterated the previously-held Viking record of 395 (Nick Baker) and the six touchdowns eclipsed the old record of five (Baker and Jeff Nelson). Eason also surpassed Baker's record of 32 completions in a game.
Gray's fourth TD catch of the game (his twelvth reception overall) tied Christian Gasca's record, and Gray's 204 receiving yards is Lake's second-most ever, trailing only Conner Coleman's 210 yards vs. Edmonds-Woodway in last year's game.
In a hint of things to come Eason hit Gray for a 12-yard completion on the game's first play from scrimmage.
But Lake, for the only time in the game, punted on its next series, Ponce's kick traveling just 17 yards, setting up an E-W nine-play, 65-yard TD drive concluded by Davis Giles' 28-yard scoring pass to Scott Myricks, Jr. Ebrima Fatty's PAT made it 7-0 at 6:27 of the first quarter.
Lake responded with a 13-play, 74-yard drive that actually covered 86 yards. A holding penalty saw Lake facing second and 23 from its own 13 when Eason hit Gavin O'Neil for exactly 23 yards and a first down. Eason was to go eight of nine on the drive for 67 yards, culminated by his five-yard scoring pass to Justin Brown (Brown's first TD catch of the season). Ponce's PAT kick tied it at 7-all with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
E-W then went 85 yards in eight plays, with Giles completing passes of 16 and 35 yards to Mac McLachlan and Jason Smarr. That was the first of four receptions by Smarr covering what is likely an E-W school record of 228 yards. The TD drive was finished by Nick Venema's seven-yard run. 14-7 E-W at 9:46 of the second quarter.
Lake tied the game on its next possesssion, going 69 yards in seven plays. Eason passes of 14 yards to Riley Krenz and two to Gray of 11 and 15 yards were followed by Otis runs of 15 and 11 yards, the latter for a TD in which he skirted left, untouched for the tally. 14-14 at 7:23 of the second.
O'Neil's interception on the E-W 29 two plays later quickly set the stage for a Ponce 32-yard field goal which put Lake ahead by 17-14 at 3:44 of the second.
E-W regained the lead at 21-17 twenty seconds later when Giles connected with Smarr for a 77-yard TD bomb.
Eason completed three straight passes of 19 yards to Otis, 16 yards to O'Neil and 11 yards to Krenz as Lake drove to the E-W 10-yard line, but a procedure penalty and two Eason incompletions ended the drive on downs at the Warrior 15 with 1:15 left in the half.
That nearly proved to be enough time for E-W to score again, as four rushes totalling 39 yards by Junior Opoku-Mensah and a 30-yard Giles to Smarr pass earned a first down on the Viking 16 with 20 seconds left.
A Giles incompletion followed by Alex Verhoeven's eight-yard sack of Giles ended the first half as the Warriors mis-managed the clock.
E-W received the second half kickoff and on its third play Giles found Smarr for another long-range TD pass, this one covering 86 yards. 28-17 at 9:54 of the third quarter. A key to the eventual Viking win was that Smarr never caught another pass after that.
Lake scored three plays later, with completions of 53-yards to O'Neil and a 15-yarder to Otis for a TD turning the trick. 28-24 EW at 8:40 of the third.
A 20-yard Giles QB sneak and his 34-yard screen pass to McLachlan followed by Opoku-Mensah's six-yard TD run was E-W's ensuing reply. 35-24 at 6:32 of the third.
Lake's answer was a 74-yard, six-play drive with Eason competing passes of 10, 11, 13 and 22 yards to Gray, O'Neil, Gray and Gray, the final one for a TD. 35-31 E-W at 4:29 of the third.
In a dramatic change of pace, Lake's defense held E-W on downs on the latter's next series, forcing a punt, which was fumbled away by Andrew Grimes, with Brandon Hohengarten recovering for the Warriors on the Viking 27.
A penalty against Lake and Opoku-Mensah's 18-yard scoring run gave E-W a 42-31 lead just three plays later, at 1:53 of the third.
On Lake's next possession, facing third and 19, Eason hit Gray with a 74-yard howitzer, Gray taking the ball away from two E-W downfield defenders. 42-38 E-W, with one second left in the third.
Lake seemed in good shape when Tyler Billings' tackle on the ensuing kickoff pinned E-W on its own 14. But that was no problem for the Warriors, who scored 10 plays later, aided by a Viking pass interference penalty, an 18-yard Giles to Theo Lebesis pass and seven rushes by Opoku-Menash covering 42 yards including his 12-yard scoring run. 49-38 with 7:56 left in the game.
Desperately needing to score on its next possession in order to keep pace, Lake gambled on fourth and 12 from its own 31 and Eason and O'Neil came through with a 21-yard completion which kept Viking hopes alive.
Three Eason completions later, each covering 16 yards, to Brown, Gray and Gray, the latter for a TD, made it 49-44 with 5:56 left. Coach Tom Tri wisely elected to go for a two-point conversion, which, via an Eason to O'Neil pass, cut the gap to within a field goal at 49-46.
E-W then attempted to grind out the lock via its rushing game, and with Opoku-Menash carrying nine times for 44 yards the Warriors reached the Viking 34 where it faced third and six. Viking defense then rose up to hurry Giles into two straight incompletions, allowing Lake to take over with 2:08 left.
That proved to be just enough time for Eason to methodically drive Lake downfield, completing six of nine passes covering 61 of the 66 yards to paydirt. The short-range air attack saw completions of 13, four, nine, 14 and 14 yards to Krenz, Otis, Brown, Brown and Brown, giving Lake a first down on the E-W 12 with a minute left.
An Eason incompletion was followed by a five-yard encroachment penalty against E-W. Another Eason incompletion (Krenz almost snared a TD in the near right corner of the end zone) made it third and five from the 12.
Had Lake failed to either gain a first down or a touchdown on the next play Coach Tri would have been faced with the decision of whether to send in Ponce for the potential game-tying field goal. That became a moot point when Eason teamed with Gray for the game-winning seven-yard TD. 53-49 Lake, with 39 seconds left.
Given E-W's explosive offense that was not a safe lead.
The Warriors returned the kickoff to its 26, where on its first play Giles passed to Myricks, Jr. who, in attempting to lateral the ball to McLachlan in the classic "hook and lateral" trick play, instead saw the ball hit the turf where Krenz fell on it at the E-W 31, the fumble recovery effectively ending the game with 25 seconds remaining.
Ironically, in a game flooded with offense, it was a couple of defensive stops in the fourth quarter which enabled resilient Lake Stevens to claim another Wesco title.
Lake finished with 557 yards of total offense, along with a school record 34 first downs. E-W's total yardage was even more impressive - 591 yards, along with 26 first downs. Giles was a super-efficient 10 of 17 (with one interception) for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
Otis, who carried the ball just once in the second half, led Lake in rushing with 71 net yards in 14 carries. For Edmonds-Woodway, Opoku-Menash carried the load, netting 204 yards in 31 carries for three touchdowns.
In addition to Gray's 12 catches for 204 yards and four TDs, O'Neil, Brown, Krenz and Otis combined for another 300 yards on 24 receptions and two touchdowns.
Linebacker C.J. Lat led Lake in tackles with 15. He now has 151 on the season and is in range of the school record of 160.
Krenz was credited with 12 tackles, Evan Miksch 11, O'Neil and Grimes nine each, and Gray and Hunter Eckstrom eight apiece.
Lake, now 6-3 on the season, hosts Newport of the Kingco League this Saturday night as the State Playoffs get underway.