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Eric Kurle's belated birthday present was a gift of a lifetime - a first state football championship at Graham-Kapowsin: 3 observations

The No. 1 Eagles set the 4A title-game rushing mark with 524 yards in a 44-7 victory over No. 2 Lake Stevens.
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TACOMA - The Graham-Kapowsin Eagles waited 24 hours before giving coach Eric Kurle his birthday gift.

Kurle turned 54 on Friday. Then his top-ranked football team went out and gave their coach his first state championship with a 44-7 victory over No. 2 Lake Stevens to win the Class 4A title at Mount Tahoma Stadium on Saturday night.

The Eagles swarmed defensively. And they ran it with ease on offense, compiling a 4A title-game record of 524 rushing yards, eclipsing the 521 Gonzaga Prep rolled up against Skyline in 2015.

Quarterback Josh Wood and running back Zack Lee each ran for more than 100 yards in the first half, and Graham-Kapowsin rolled up 298 yards of total offense in the first 24 minutes as the Eagles built a 24-7 lead by halftime.

"We talked about this from the beginning of the year," Kurle said. "We felt like we were built to throw or run. It didn’t matter. But the weather the last couple of weeks, and Josh had a little injury on his throwing hand. It didn’t matter because he took off running."

For Lake Stevens, it was the second championship loss in the past three seasons. The Vikings lost to Union, 52-20, back in 2018. There was no 2020 championship game, with the playoffs being erased by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are three observations from the Graham-Kapowsin-Lake Stevens game:

DUEL ON THE PRAIRIE

The site where Mount Tahoma sits was farm land for much of its life. On Saturday, the artificial turf that now covers the area provided the ground for something of a duel between a pair of Eagles.

Pacing a rushing offense that dominated the contest, Wood and Lee traded the game’s rushing lead back and forth through much of the third quarter. Wood had 119 yards to Lee’s 103 at the half.

A couple of nifty runs on Graham-Kapowsin’s first possession of the third quarter put Lee ahead in the quest to be the game’s top rusher, 146-119. Wood immediately ripped off a 28-yarder down the left sideline that put him ahead, 147-146, then added the final 14-yard touchdown run that extended Graham-Kapowsin’s lead to 31-7.

Wood eventually finished with 172 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Lee went for a game-high 190 and two scores on 20 carries.

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"I’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season," Lee said. "Best O-Line in the state, hands down, by far. It was raining, can’t really throw the ball. What do we do when you can’t throw, we run the rock."

THIS INJURY CAUGHT UP WITH THE VIKINGS

Lake Stevens had overcome adversity all season - from a COVID-19 shutdown to suffering injuries to key players.

And yet, the Vikings came into the game with an 11-0 record.

But Graham-Kapowsin is a different challenge - one made more difficult with the absence of starting quarterback Grayson Murren.

"That’s the best team we’ve played, by far, this year," Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said. "We didn’t play very well tonight, but give them credit. That’s the best team we’ve played all year."

A big hit late in the Vikings' semifinal victory over Eastlake shelved Murren this week with a broken collarbone. Freshman Kolten Matson stepped in and completed six of 13 passes for 43 yards and one interception.

Matson was one of the four who had played previously, along with sophomore Kaden Laplaunt and even starting junior running back Jayden Limar. But it was Murren who had returned three weeks ago from a leg injury and led Lake Stevens to quarterfinal and semifinal victories before the new injury changed everything going into the championship game Saturday.

"Absolutely different," Tri said. "Not that I’m taking anything away from Kolten Matson. He did a great job for us. But when you have a quarterback that can throw it all over the field, and can run and spread the defense out, yeah that’s going to make a difference."

THE WAY TO CELEBRATE

It was Kurle’s second appearance in a championship game over 26 years as a coach. He previously led Bethel to the final game in 2000 before losing to Pasco, 20-3.

"I always feel like I’m going to get here," Kurle said. "It just hasn’t happened. I feel like we have good teams every year, and feel like we can compete every year. This was probably the most complete team I’ve ever had."

That the championship game happened to come at birthday time was just a bonus.

"Best birthday present, by far - easily," Lee said. “"he whole year we’ve been ranked No. 1. There’s been a lot of doubters even though we’ve been ranked No. 1. It just feels so good to prove them all wrong."