We are just days away from the 2023 edition of the Washington state high school football state championships. For just the second time since the WIAA went to the seeding committee format in 2018, all six #1 seeds have made it to the championship games with the other occurrence coming in 2021. In 2021, five of the #1 seeds won their respective state championship games which got us to thinking, which #1 seed is most vulnerable to be the one that doesn’t take home the state title? That is what we will do here. This will be just our opinion based on their opponent, game results with an emphasis on playoffs, and other variables that may change from team to team. With all that being said, let’s get things started with the least vulnerable #1 seed.
#1- Royal (Least Vulnerable)
We kick things off with the least vulnerable and that is the team that currently has the greatest dynasty out of any sport in the state in the Royal Knights. Royal has won six of the last seven 1A state football championships and look to take home their fourth consecutive this year. What is even scarier is that this year’s team looks like it has a case to be the best out of all those title winning teams. A dominant 12-0 record is just the tip of the iceberg for this team. The Knights have allowed just 48 points this entire season and the most they have given up in a single game is 13 in a 63-13 victory over College Place. That is already impressive, but they are currently riding a streak of four consecutive shutouts, all of those games coming in the playoffs. By kickoff on Friday, they will have gone over a month without allowing a single point. The offense is also flying high, averaging over 45 points per game. That offense is getting even better as running back Ethan Ellis just recently returned to the starting lineup and the duo of him and Lance Allred can do it all.
A little bit of mystery could be where the Knights run into some issues. Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls will be on the other sideline and for the first time ever the Eagles find themselves in the state championship game. After a very good season last year ended in the quarterfinals, Lakeside got into the semis for the first time in program history this season and look to cap off the dream year with a state title. This is an unfamiliar foe for Royal as these two schools haven’t met on the football field since a state tournament game back in 2014. A lot has changed for both sides since then so Lakeside does have the element of surprise on their side. Add in the fact that Lakeside has had to play some very close games just to get to this point. A 24-20 quarterfinal win over Freeman was followed by a 24-23 overtime win over Nooksack Valley in the semifinals. The Eagles know how to win close games and are used to it over the last couple of weeks. With their own dynamic duo of Calvin Mikkelsen and Hiro Patterson, Lakeside is not an easy out for anybody.
Why the Royal Knights are the least vulnerable comes down to tradition and expectation. These players know what they have to do and many of them have experienced the championship pressure. Royal knows the task at hand and they understand that their is a lot of emotion wrapped up in a championship game. They know how to not just control that emotion, but use it as fuel. As Ric Flair said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Royal is the top dog and until someone takes that spot from them, it is nearly impossible to pick against them.
#2- Liberty Bell
We go to another reigning state champion as we move up the vulnerability ladder. The Liberty Bell Mountain Lions come into the 1B state championship game on a 17-game winning streak. The difference between this year’s team and last year’s team…well there really isn’t much of a difference. Yes, they did have some players graduate but the Paz brothers are back as well as a couple of the best linemen you will find in 1B football in Fischer Edwards and Alex Ramsay-George. The speed and comradery of Lucien and Remi Paz has led the offense to a whopping 604 points this season. These guys don’t always start off the fastest, but eventually everything starts to click and they become an unstoppable force.
Just like Royal, Liberty Bell will have to defend their title against a team that has never been to the state championship in football as they take on the Wilbur-Creston-Keller Wildcats. What WCK has done in recent weeks is absurd. In the state tournament alone, the Wildcats have scored 164 points. That’s just in two games by the way since they got a first round bye. 764 points have been scored by the Wildcats with Kallen Maioho accounting for 31 of those touchdowns and another 35 coming from running back Kalub Dreger. If you are a fan of defensive football games, this might not be the game for you. Neither of these offenses look like they will slow down at all this weekend.
Liberty Bell is still low on the vulnerability list because we believe that they have the better defense. One mistake could be the difference in this game. One turnover seems like it will be the deciding factor in who takes home the 1B championship. With the margin for error that small, the better defense has the edge. In the second half of last year’s championship game, the offense woke up for the Mountain Lions but it was the defense that dominated that game. They might not be as dominant this time around, but defense wins championships and Liberty Bell’s defense has the edge.
There is a big gap in vulnerability between Liberty Bell and Napavine as the 2B title game is full on very intriguing storylines. For the third consecutive state tournament, the Napavine Tigers will play the Okanogan Bulldogs and for the second time in a row the matchup comes in the championship game. The previous two meetings saw Napavine earn the win which is an argument to why they are and are not vulnerable. Everything starts with Napavine quarterback Ashton Demarest. That does not mean that the senior QB doesn’t have weapons because he has an abundance of them. Take away a hiccup in the middle of the season in a loss to 1A Lynden Christian, the Tiger offense has put up some crazy numbers. The dual-threat quarterback in Demarest leads the way with 44 total touchdowns in his senior season while Cael Stanley has added 11 more at tailback. An x-factor could be Cayle Kelly who has come on strong as the season has come to an end. His speed on jet sweeps could test the quickness of the big and strong Bulldog defense.
Normally it is Napavine that has the size advantage on the line of scrimmage. However, these Okanogan Bulldogs are going to have that luxury in this game. They also have their own offensive weapons to try to wear down the Tiger defense. Carter Kuchenbuch might not be as much of a dual threat, but his decision making is second to none. The chip on the shoulders of the Bulldogs is the real X-factor. They get another chance to take on the team that has ended their season the last two years. Okanogan will do whatever it takes to make sure the third time is the charm for the Bulldogs. It all comes down to can the defense keep up with the speed of the Napavine offense or will the Tigers firepower be too much to overcome.
When all is said and done, Napavine has not lost to a 2B opponent since the 2021 state championship. Head coach Josh Fay has built one of the best football programs from top to bottom in the state and this senior class has a chance to go out with a second state championship. Napavine doesn’t lack confidence will try to knock Okanogan off their gameplan early with a fast start to the game. Until we see a 2B team stop the Napavine offensive machine, the Tigers will get the benefit of the doubt.
For the first time, we come to a team that is not the defending state champions. Up at the 4A classification, the top seeded Graham-Kapowsin Eagles will look to do what they did back in 2021 and that is defeat Lake Stevens in the state championship. The Eagles offense is the reason they are the top seed and the reason they are in the title game. Not only do the Eagles have one of the very best quarterbacks in the state in Daveon Superales, but his plethora of offensive weapons are top tier. Jabez Woods already had an incredible connection with Superales, but Malachi Durant has added a big time deep threat to this offense. Last week, Graham-Kapowsin even found a pretty strong run game when they relied on Alele Fa’apito-Leao in their second half comeback against Eastlake. The defense is all or nothing as well. Sure they can be vulnerable to the big plays, but they take risks to try to create turnovers and if they build momentum on that side of the ball, they can quickly open up a sizeable lead. The mobility of Superales has not been the same since he was banged up in their opening round win over Richland. If Superales is able to use his legs, this offense will put up an abundance of points against anyone.
If we would have made this list before the playoffs started, G-K might have been less vulnerable on our list. Then the games began and arguably no team has looked better in the playoffs than the Lake Stevens Vikings. The defending 4A state champions have outscored Woodinville, Kennedy Catholic, and Kamiakin 133-28. Kolton Matson has capitalized on the spread offense ran by the Vikings to the tune of 45 passing touchdowns this year. While Jayden Limar has moved on to the University of Oregon, Jayshon Limar has stepped in to fill the void at running back. Matson shares the love on offense with a variety of receivers getting the ball but Paul Varela is the big play guy after having a strong state championship game last year. A win over Kennedy Catholic finally earned Lake Stevens their first state championship in program history but they are hungry for more. The defending champs only loss came to Oregon power in West Linn. Saving their best football for this stage of the season has put a lot of eyes on the champs who can’t be overlooked anymore.
For the sixth time since 2015, these two teams are meeting in the playoffs. Lake Stevens might hold the advantage at 3-2, but it was Graham-Kapowsin who won the lone championship meeting between the two. In their third consecutive state championship, Lake Stevens will look to get that one back. One thing to note for the Vikings is that they can never feel comfortable in this game. G-K has an explosive offense so a fast start can be quickly erased. The Vikings defense needs to contain Superales and keep him in the pocket. If they can make him one dimensional, the Vikings will be in much better shape. With how these playoffs have gone, the defense is more than capable of doing that against Superales. However, there is no quarterback like Daveon Superales. This Lake Stevens’ defense will be tested like never before in the playoffs and this game has the potential to steal the show this weekend.
Yelm was the most difficult decision for these rankings. After winning their first state title in program history in the most iconic finish in state history, Yelm has continued to dominate the 3A classification but in a very different way. The Tornado defense stole the spotlight back in week 1 and they haven’t slowed down yet. Averaging allowing less than nine points per game, Yelm’s shutout win over Eastside Catholic in the semifinals was extremely impressive. Allowing less than 60 yards in that win, the front seven completely took away the Crusaders rushing attack and harassed both QBs that Eastside Catholic had. Brayden Platt gets a lot of the attention due to his dominance on both sides of the ball, but there are plenty of standouts on defense for Yelm. Isaiah Patterson, Onyx Carter, and Kenji Scanlan are just some of the names that have made this defense so special. On offense, quarterback Damian Aalona continues to be one of the best decision makers in the state. A guy that doesn’t put the ball in danger, Aalona knows how to take calculated risks. With Platt behind him in the backfield, this offense can eat away at the clock like no other as they have run their win streak to 27 games.
Perennial power Bellevue was the most overlooked team in any classification. Coming into the state tournament as the #6 seed, Bellevue has gone on a challenging run. Thanks to two losses right out of the gate to open up the season, the Wolverines were not ranked as high as they should have been. Especially when you dig into those losses. A 48-27 loss to Oregon 6A state champions Central Catholic and a 34-31 loss to Lake Stevens in a game where the Wolverines led for most of the game are the only blemishes on the 2023 season for Bellevue. Neither of those losses look bad at all looking back at them. QB Lucas Razore doesn’t have eye popping stats due to the Wing-T offense that has made Bellevue the perennial power at the 3A level. However, Razore can still sling it when he has to. Hogan Hansen is the most dangerous pass catcher for the Wolverines but they will run the ball right at Yelm. The Wing-T makes the rushing attack a lot harder to read and stop and Carson Rubin and Blake Teets will look to capitalize on those openings.
Yelm eliminated Bellevue in the state semifinals last year in a thrilling 28-27 win where Damian Aalona scored on 4th and goal from the 1 with under a minute to go. Bellevue has not forgotten. They have stood bye waiting for their chance at revenge. Yelm has won some tight games in the playoffs and another close came is expected here. While Bellevue has rolled through Monroe and Arlington, they had to fight for a win over O’Dea last week. Don’t blink during this game. It will fly by due to the run heavy styles of both teams. In a game where every possession is magnified, Yelm is very vulnerable. Fewer opportunities means that their can be no hiccups for the Tornados. While they have a strong chance to win this game and repeat, they have an equally as strong chance to lose. Whichever team can find their groove faster will win this one which makes Yelm vulnerable due to the fact that they have not started fast in the playoffs.
#6- Tumwater (Most Vulnerable)
The most vulnerable #1 seed is the Tumwater Thunderbirds. The 2A classification is the only classification where the defending champions did not make the championship game after Lynden lost in the quarterfinals to North Kitsap. Tumwater impressed everyone all season with new head coach Willie Garrow stepping in and keeping the green and gold rolling right along. The depth at running back for the T-Birds is the best asset to this offense that has overwhelmed opponents all season long. Kooper Clark, Logan Cole, and Jaylin Nixon have all found success throughout the season and all three will see carries in this championship game. If things aren’t going the T-Birds way late, quarterback Ethan Kastner has shown the ability to go win games with his arm as well. Kastner is completing just under 75% of his passes this season and like in true T-Bird fashion has a dominant tight end in Jacob Dillon. The big question mark for Tumwater is their strength of schedule. Outside of playing North Kitsap twice, Tumwater has not really been challenged this year. WF West is normally Tumwater’s stiffest competition in the Evergreen 2A conference but they had a down year which allowed Tumwater to roll to a perfect record. In the state tournament, Tumwater rolled past Port Angeles and Clarkston before needing a late comeback to beat North Kitsap for a second time. Could it be that Tumwater is just that much better than everyone else? Absolutely. But they will face their toughest test of the season this weekend.
After not even being able to field a varsity team just a few years ago, the Anacortes Seahawks have risen from the ashes and now find themselves in the 2A championship. They say defense wins championships and Anacortes seems to take that to heart. The Seahawks have allowed about seven points per game this season including a big win over the back-to-back champions in Lynden to take home the NWC crown and complete a perfect season. Brock Beaner and Rylin Lang provide a one-two punch on offense for the Seahawks but Rex Larson is more than capable of dealing out damage with his arm. The defense of Anacortes is led by Brock Beaner as well but Brady Beaner helps out and the entire secondary is outstanding. There are no weaknesses on the back end of the defense so if Anacortes can find themselves a lead late, things will be extremely difficult for Tumwater. Anacortes’ seniors have also been as battle tested as you could imagine. From not having a team a few years ago to now playing in a state championship is an incredible accomplishment, but the Seahawks won’t be happy unless they head home with the title.
There are just so many question marks surrounding this game and Tumwater in particular. They have not faced the level of competition that Anacortes has had to face all season long. Again, Tumwater could just be way better than everyone else, but they have to beat a team like Anacortes to prove that without a shadow of a doubt. Making Tumwater the most vulnerable #1 seed is not just about the questions about Tumwater, but it also has a lot to do with the talent of Anacortes. Someone’s 0 has got to go in this battle of unbeatens and Anacortes has taken a lot of zeros away from teams this season so Tumwater has to be prepared for this challenge.