By Joe Slye, Gem of the Sound Sports Reporter
Kennedy vs. Lake Stevens Recap – 12/3/2022
The Kennedy Catholic Lancers lost the Washington State 4A Tournament football championship game in a close 24-22 to the Lake Stevens Vikings on Saturday evening at Mount Tahoma High School Stadium in Tacoma.
Both teams battled hard, both deserving to win; however, Lake Stevens had the slight edge to win their first state championship. A runner-up in 2018 to an undefeated Union team, a 44-7 loss in 2021 to powerful Graham-Kapowsin in last year’s Championship game, and a get-even win over them this year in the state semi-finals paved the way; it was just their time to shine. 2022 was the third time in the last four 4A football championship games played (2020, no state tournament due to COVID) that Lake Stevens battled for the title. It was their turn to take the trophy home to the town of Lake Stevens. “If you’ve never been to our city, you don’t understand how big football is. This means everything,” said Viking running back Jayden Limar.
A special team that had a championship on their mind all season, Kennedy Catholic sandwiched a ton of success this year around two losses to state champion teams. After an opening season 26-14 loss to eventual 3A state champion Eastside Catholic, the Lancers won 12 straight games before Saturday’s 24-22 loss to now 4A state champion Lake Stevens. In tournament play, all but the champion end up losing their last game. That loss is always tough on the coaches and players after all the time and work they put in to achieve the success this year’s team achieved.
The Kennedy Catholic offense was held in check for most of the game. With 234 yards of total offense, the Lancers were almost 200 yards below their season average. Both passing and running the ball were made difficult by the Lake Stevens defense. The Viking coaches installed a solid game plan to stymie the Kennedy Catholic attack. They slowed down running back Xe’ree Alexander to just 46 yards on 14 carries. The Lake Stevens pass coverage had success by shifting from zone to man coverage and applying pressure on the Lancer quarterback. Sophomore starter Devon Forehand left the game late in the second quarter and did not return after halftime after suffering a shoulder injury. Senior Payton Faker took over and orchestrated a touchdown in the last 2 minutes of the first half. He also had a 53-yard pass to Isaac Syph to the 16-yard line. That set up the Lancers for four runs by Alexander for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But that was the most success he could generate. The Lancer offense only scored two touchdowns and was well below its 44-point-per-game average.
The Lake Stevens offense had a balanced attack led by Limar with 185 yards on 33 carries and quarterback Kolton Matson passing for 182 yards on 14-25 passing. Solid performance for both players, considering the quarterback sacks, knocked-down passes by the defensive line, and the Lancers on stopping Limar. The Vikings were also held to less than their over 40 points per game scoring average. Limar is a 4-star recruit headed to Notre Dame next year. All week he was rehabbing a high ankle sprain suffered in the Graham-Kapowsin semifinal game last week; he ran hard and fast into the line and stopped for loss a few times but did not go down easy. He gave a gutsy performance and sat out just a few plays all evening.
The defense was the star of the night. Both defenses held the opponent to lower-than-season average numbers and caused turnovers that led to scores. On the fifth play of the Lancers opening drive, Lake Stevens intercepted a Forehand pass on the Lancer 40-yard line that the Vikings turned into a 7-play (6 runs by Limar) touchdown for an early 7-0 lead. Kennedy Catholic responded by scoring on a quarterback sack and fumble that Alexander scooped up and outran everyone for a 64-yard touchdown.
In the third quarter, Kennedy Catholic also blocked a 37-yard field goal try by Lake Stevens. The toughest defense was dialed up by the Vikings during the last five minutes of the game. Holding onto a 24-22 lead, Lake Stevens forced a Kennedy Catholic punt with an incomplete pass under pressure and two sacks. The punt from the 2-yard line was downed on the Kennedy Catholic 35-yard line. A fumble, recovered by Dante Saldino and caused by an Alexander hit on a first and 10 Limar run, turned the ball back over to the Lancers on their 17-yard line with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. Kennedy Catholic had another chance. With a series of passes and runs, the Lancers are moving the ball. However, things stall out at the Viking 49 after the Lancers deep passes against the Lake Stevens man coverage fall incomplete. The Vikings take over on downs with 1:55 to go in the game. Lake Stevens grinds out a first down on 3 Limar runs, and with 1:09 to play, they can take a knee for the victory.
What an amazing game. Not the most pretty presentation by either team, but that’s how hard-fought leave-it-on-the-field games go; in the end, the players are physically drained. The Lake Stevens team jumped and hugged each other, celebrating their well-deserved victory. The Kennedy Catholic players stepped back and watched the celebration. They hugged and leaned on each other, clearly disappointed…reflecting on the long journey to be so close. Head coach Sheldon Cross, in his first state championship game in his seven years as a Lancer, said, “That’s what a championship football game should be…that’s just the way it goes, right?”