Lions shutout in state playoffs for first time since 1979
TACOMA – The stakes were higher and the script was flipped in a 2A state semifinal matchup between Lynden and Steilacoom on Saturday, a rematch of a week three thriller earlier in the season. The Lions offense couldn’t get anything going this time around, and Lynden was shut out 42-0 by the Sentinels, a team they scored 56 points on in the early season victory.
Senior running back Steven DiLorenzo, the Lions’ leading rusher who came into the game with 1,512 rushing yards on the season, was held to just 26 yards on the ground. This marks the first time the Lions have been shut out since week three of the 2015 season and the first time they have been shut out in the state playoffs since 1979.
“They did what we thought somebody would do eventually and that was load the box,” Lynden coach Blake VanDalen said. “They had the skill players to match up on our receivers and create pressure. They just did what they needed to and we couldn’t run the ball. We’re a running team that couldn’t run the ball, so tip your hat to them.”
On offense, the Lions were forced into four three-and-outs, three turnover on downs, coughed up two fumbles and threw two interceptions. In the first half, they finished with just 93 all-purpose yards and only crossed into Sentinel territory twice.
That would only lead to a 21-point deficit at the half though, as the Lion defense made the game seem a lot closer than it was. Lynden forced two fumbles, one coming on the third play of the game, and one interception.
Steilacoom junior Emeka Egbuka, the No. 1 athlete in the nation in the 2021 class, single-handedly made sure those turnovers didn’t hurt for the Sentinels, finishing with 132 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
The Lions close their season at 9-3 with a top-four finish in the state. They made two straight appearances to the state semi-finals, even when some people said they couldn’t.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” VanDalen said. “All people wanted to talk about was how many kids we lost last year and these kids didn’t have any of it. They had some huge wins this year, they had a high seed [and] went all the way to the semis. We’re frustrated because we didn’t play our best tonight.”
A big part of the Lions’ run the last couple of years has been senior workhorse Brock Heppner.
Heppner finished the season with 24 touchdowns, which puts him third all-time on the Lions’ career touchdown list with 43, just three behind TJ Busch in second, and six behind leader Josh Kraght.
“It means everything,” Heppner said. “I love this group, I love Lynden football. I just wanted to give everything I had for four years and I feel like I did that. I’m proud and I just love these guys. I mean, that’s the great part about being a leader is the guys, the relationships that you get and the love you have for the group of guys.”
Although things didn’t end the way they hoped, the 16 seniors for the Lions didn’t go a year without advancing to the state tournament, including one championship appearance and two semifinal appearances.
“It’s some of the greatest four years of my life, I’m sure,” Heppner said. “I mean, it’s been the greatest four years this far. I’m so proud to be able to put Lions on my chest.”