Editor's note: This Class 1A preview package was written up by SBLive WA staff for the WIAA state program. Game predictions made by reporters Todd Milles, Hailey Palmer and Tri-Cities-based Evans Rankings' founder Matt Evans.
It’s no secret that Royal has set the standard in Class 1A football, so it’s fitting once again that the top-seeded Knights are back playing for another state championship.
Royal is going for its third consecutive title - and 11th overall this weekend. With 10th-seeded Mount Baker on the other sideline, the Knights are the heavy favorites.
Don’t underestimate the Mountaineers, who looked completely out of the postseason race in the 1A Northwest Conference a month ago.
They handed Lynden Christian its first loss to force a three-way tiebreaker, then defeated Nooksack Valley to clinch a spot in the state playoffs.
And all they’ve done so far is beaten 1A Evergreen co-champion Tenino and 1A Northeast champion Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls on the road before returning to Civic Stadium to upend Nooksack Valley on Saturday in the state semifinals.
Will Mount Baker’s incredible Cinderella run end with a state title or will it all come to a halt at the hands of established 1A royalty?
"They (the Knights) have great coaching and understand what they want to get done," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "It’s a tough matchup for anybody, but at the same time, we have to worry about ourselves and give ourselves our best opportunity.
The Mountaineers are undoubtedly playing their best football right now, and Royal coach Wiley Allred has noticed all the confidence Mount Baker has gained over the past six weeks.
His team has done the same after a fourth-week loss to Lynden Christian, ripping off eight consecutive victories, including a 57-21 win over Freeman in last week's state semifinals.
"Our kids are gaining confidence with each week they face a different offensive structure and get more experience with what they’re doing on both sides of the ball," Allred said. "I think the confidence level of both teams is pretty high."
The Knights and Mountaineers met in the 2018 state quarterfinals - a 55-6 Royal victory.
CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP PRIMER
NO. 10 MOUNT BAKER MOUNTAINEERS (8-4) vs. NO. 1 ROYAL KNIGHTS (11-1)
Noon Saturday at Harry E. Lang Stadium, Lakewood
Coaches: Ron Lepper is in his 27th season at Mount Baker (200-88 record). Wiley Allred is in his 24th season at Royal (273-28 record).
WIAA championship history: Mount Baker has never won a WIAA title, but played in the 1A title game in 2013. Royal won the 1A title in 1996, 2000, 2004-05, 2007, 2015-17, 2019 and 2021.
Road to 2022 Gridiron Classic: Tenth-seeded Mount Baker defeated No. 7 seed Tenino in the first round (37-26), No. 2 seed Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls in the quarterfinals (35-20) and No. 3 seed Nooksack Valley in the semifinals (14-13). Top-seeded Royal defeated No. 16 seed Cascade Christian in the first round (41-7), No. 8 seed Montesano in the quarterfinals (41-8) and No. 12 seed Freeman in the semifinals (57-21).
Statistical leaders: For Mount Baker – QB Landon Smith (53-123, 865 yards, 12 TDs; 78 carries, 279 yards, eight TDs), RB Marcques George (209 carries, 1,931 yards, 23 TDs), RB Wilhem Maloley (97 carries, 542 yards, seven TDs), RB/DB Landen Hanstead (19 catches, 361 yards, seven TDs, three INTs), LB Dylan Moa (62.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL). For Royal — QB Dylan Allred (157-238, 2,282 yards, 28 TDs; 96 tackles), RB Kaleb Hernandez (139 carries, 1,061 yards, 21 TDs; 46 tackles), WR Edgar Delarosa (48 catches, 840 yards, 17 TDs; three INTs) and LB Jared Lee (58 tackles) and LB Ethan Ellis (four INTs).
Palmer's pick: Royal, 36-20.
Milles' pick: Royal, 31-19
Evans' pick: Royal, 38-17.