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WIAA 4A football championship preview: Lake Stevens-Kennedy Catholic finale guarantees first-time winner

Vikings have lost in two of past three WIAA title games while Lancers have shown breakthrough promise in past half-decade

Editor's note: This Class 4A 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.

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As easy as some programs make winning a WIAA football title seem - there are two coaches in the Class 4A ranks that would tell you otherwise.

Tom Tri has led Lake Stevens to half of its four state title-game appearance (2018, 2021), but the Vikings fell short both times.

"Not only do you have to be good, but a little lucky," Tri said. "And you have to stay healthy."

And Sheldon Cross with his generational Air Raid cast of the past few years at Kennedy Catholic? Well, matchups (and COVID-19 cancellations) do matter.

"It is so hard," Cross said. "People don’t understand how many good coaches there are in this state, and how many programs that are good - and what it takes to get to this point."

Good news - one of these programs will win one Saturday night after they square off for the 4A title at Mount Tahoma Stadium.

And it’s not difficult to figure out either team’s attacking formula: Get athletes in space.

Tri is one of the best coaches in the state in exploiting open-space matchups out of the team’s spread offense. And he has big-play performers in running back Jayden Limar, and wide receivers Cole Becker, Cassidy Bolong-Banks and Isaac Redford.

"We run as much motion as probably any team in the state," Tri said. "And that is all part of it - part of motion is disguise and part of it is moving our best athletes to an entirely new area to try and find that hole in the defense."

Cross is a staunch Air Raid proponent - and stresses defenses with tailback in Xe’ree Alexander and standout wide receivers Mason Hayes and Maclane Watkins.

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"We value ourselves being able to spread the field, and spread out the touches. We are a very balanced team in that way," Cross said.

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CLASS 4A CHAMPIONSHIP PRIMER

2022 Washington high school playoffs, Class 4A semifinals: Kennedy Catholic at Emerald Ridge

NO. 2 LAKE STEVENS VIKINGS (11-2) vs. NO. 4 KENNEDY CATHOLIC LANCERS (12-1)

5 p.m. Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium, Tacoma

Coaches: Tom Tri is in his 18th season at Lake Stevens (153-45 record). Sheldon Cross is in his seventh season at Kennedy Catholic (54-16 record).

WIAA championship history: Neither school has won a WIAA title, but both have reached the state championship game in its history - Lake Stevens in 1985 and 1994 in 3A, and 2018 and 2021 in 4A; Kennedy Catholic in 2006 in 3A.

Road to 2022 Gridiron Classic: Second-seeded Lake Stevens defeated No. 15 seed North Creek in the first round (42-27), No. 10 seed Gonzaga Prep in the quarterfinals (42-17) and No. 6 seed Graham-Kapowsin in the semifinals (42-28). Fourth-seeded Kennedy Catholic defeated No. 13 seed Richland in the first round (46-35), No. 5 seed Skyline in the quarterfinals (38-10) and No. 8 seed Emerald Ridge in the semifinals (42-28).

Statistical leaders: For Lake Stevens - QB Kolton Matson (115-160, 1,540 yards, 15 TDs; 34 carries, 222 yards, three TDs), RB Jayden Limar (202 carries, 1,833 yards, 35 TDs; 25 catches, 325 yards, four TDs), WR Cole Becker (37 catches, 549 yards, six TDs), ATH Cassidy Bolong-Banks (33 catches, 461 yards, five TDs; 28 carries, 324 yards, three TDs), WR Isaac Redford (34 catches, 439 yards, five TDs) and LB Mason Turner (135 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and DB Isaac Redford (seven INTs). For Kennedy Catholic - QB Devon Forehand (145-211, 2,474 yards, 28 TDs), QB Payton Faker (69-125, 1,137 yards, 15 TDs), RB Xe'ree Alexander (94 carries, 885 yards, 17 TDs), WR/TE Mason Hayes (65 catches, 1,274 yards, 16 TDs), WR Maclane Watkins (49 catches, 888 yards, 13 TDs) and LB Thomas Bevilacqua (80 tackles) and LB Xe'ree Alexander (72 tackles, 17 TFL, six sacks, INT).

Palmer's pick: Lake Stevens, 38-30.

Milles' pick: Lake Stevens, 34-32.

Evans' pick: Kennedy Catholic, 38-28.