Bracket Breakdown: Semifinal game-by-game analysis, picks in WIAA Class 4A state football tournament

Lake Stevens’ Grayson Murren and Eastlake’s Parker Barrysmith have made playing quarterback this fall look easy as first-time starters.

As a result, their respective teams are in the Class 4A semifinals – and face off Saturday at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell.

The amazing thing about both of their ascensions into all-league players is that they’ve taken similar wait-and-play journeys to the starting job as seniors.

Murren’s path was blocked by two-time all-4A Wesco performer Tanner Jellison for two seasons. But coach Tom Tri was excited when it was time to hand the reins of the Vikings’ offense over to the dual threat.

“We were definitely cautiously optimistic that he would be a stud for us,” Tri said. “He can make all the throws. He has the feet. It just really came down to his decision-making, and experience facing live bullets.”

Tri said Murren’s first couple of throws in his first varsity start against O’Dea were off target because he was “so amped up.” After that, he settled down and led the team to a victory over the then-No. 1 team in Class 3A.

His season has had one hiccup – an injury.

Murren played the final few minutes against Kamiak with a fracture in his leg, which sidelined him for three weeks. He returned to the helm Saturday, leading Lake Stevens to a 35-14 win over Gonzaga Prep.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with his ability to pick up things quickly – and fluently,” Tri said. “But the one thing we underestimated with him is how competitive he is. That kid does not like to lose.”

On the other side, first-year Eastlake coach Kyle Snell said he didn’t need a varsity game to really know Barrysmith would flourish at quarterback.

“We played O’Dea at team camp,” Snell said. “Parker made some throws with some of their big dudes in his face, and (offensive line) coach (Mike) Linker runs up and goes, ‘Did you see him throw the ball with that guy bearing down on him?'”

Barrysmith is a slippery gun-slinger who has a knack of making big-time throws on the move.

And with 2,565 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, he’s on the verge of rewriting many of the school’s single-season records – many of them held by Ben Howard (2016).

“He is giving guys a chance to make plays all the time, or he is making the right decision so we live to see another down,” Snell said. “Our guys have incredible confidence in him.

“He is playing really, really great football. Nothing seems outside his comfortability right now.”

Editor’s note: Here’s a game-by-game breakdown, including top individual performers, outlook and score prediction, of this weekend’s 2021 WIAA Class 4A football semifinal matchups.

NO. 3 LAKE STEVENS VIKINGS (10-0) vs. NO. 2 EASTLAKE WOLVES (12-0)

Photo by Todd Milles

1 p.m. Saturday at Pop Keeney Stadium, Bothell

Statistical leaders: For Lake Stevens – QB Grayson Murren (82-115, 1,509 yards, 18 TDs), RB Jayden Limar (172 carries, 1,400 yards, 19 TDs; 21 catches, 355 yards, four TDs), WR Drew Carter (52 catches, 946 yards, 13 TDs), WR Trayce Hanks (48 carries, 554 yards, seven TDs; 24 catches, 505 yards, six TDs; and four INT on defense) and LB Madison Wynkoop (114 tackles, 19 TFL or no gain). For Eastlake – QB Parker Barrysmith (144-239, 2,565 yards, 30 TDs), RB Jack Peterson (109 carries, 711 yards, 10 TDs), RB Michael Lester (101 carries, 607 yards, five TDs), WR Noah Weintraub (29 catches, 670 yards, six TDs), TE Griffin Miller (35 catches, 645 yards, nine TDs), WR Will Eaton (28 catches, 524 yards, six TDs) and LB Harry Reid (90.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL).

What to watch for: These are a pair of fun, splashy offenses that can put up points in a hurry. And the Vikings’ ability to attack all quadrants of the field, in a variety of ways, was on full display in their 35-14 state quarterfinal win over Gonzaga Prep. With ATH Trayce Hanks’ short-space game-breaking ability, RB Jayden Limar’s capability of running with power and speed, WR Drew Carter’s downfield pass-catching savviness, and QB Grayson Murren’s aptness to make it all go – Lake Stevens tests all aspects of a defense. But Eastlake is made up of big-and-fast player roster on both sides, and will surely stress the Vikings’ secondary with big-play WRs Will Eaton and Noah Weintraub on the outside – and a trio of tailbacks who can soften up the interior of a defense. Whichever team can string together defensive stops should be the one left standing in this expected shootout.

Pick: Lake Stevens, 40-37.

NO. 4 KAMIAKIN BRAVES (12-0) at NO. 1 GRAHAM-KAPOWSIN EAGLES (12-0)

Photo by Vince Miller

1 p.m. Saturday at Art Crate Stadium, Spanaway

Statistical leaders: For Kamiakin – QB Henry Mercado (183-293, 2,620 yards, 40 TDs; 57 carries, 313 yards, four TDs), RB Luis Salgado (154 carries, 1,232 yards, 21 TDs), WR Payton Graham (913 receiving yards, 12 TDs; nearly 1,700 all-purpose/plus passing yards, 20 total TDs; six INT on defense), LB Luis Salgado (92 tackles, 15 TFL). For Graham-Kapowsin – QB Joshua Wood (137-190, 2,110 yards, 33 TDs; 39 carries, 385 yards, seven TDs), RB Zackary Lee (82 carries, 978 yards, eight TDs), RB Jalen Davenport (57 carries, 455 yards, eight TDs), WR Julian Mason (55 catches, 851 yards, seven TDs), TE Andrew Savaiinaea (22 catches, 308 yards, nine TDs) and LB Jalen Davenport (75 tackles, five TFL).

What to watch for: It will be a chess game with lots of moving parts – particularly at quarterback with Graham-Kapowsin’s Joshua Wood and Kamiakin’s Henry Mercado, both of whom can make a game-changing play out of chaos with their arm or legs (and both are respective fall league MVPs). But aside from individual heroics, the offenses largely get things done in different modes. Kamiakin aims to spread defenses out, and allow its athletes to work in space, led by RB Luis Salgado and do-everything WR Peyton Graham. Expect the Braves to test an Eagles’ defensive backfield that struggled in their state quarterfinal victory over Bothell. And Graham-Kapowsin’s pro-style power run game has yet to be slowed down, paced by RB Zackary Lee (and has been especially effective against 3-3 defenses like Kamiakin’s). Points will likely be put up, the question is – which team’s pace will create the best offensive rhythm.

Pick: Graham-Kapowsin, 38-34.

(Featured file photo by Vince Miller)

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