Long had to wait behind two standout signal callers before he finally got the ball last year. Now he has the Vikings in the state title game.
Yeah, Tre Long wanted the ball.
The Lake Stevens senior had always envisioned himself as a starting quarterback. But with predecessors such as Jacob Eason, the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year who is now at Washington, and Conor Bardue, Eason’s able replacement, Long knew he’d have to wait for his opportunity.
He waited so long that those outside the program thought of Long as a receiver rather than a quarterback.
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“I finally get to play my true position,” Long said. “Now, I’ve just got to get the job done.”
Finishing the “job” means taking Lake Stevens further than any quarterback in school history. With Long under center, the undefeated Vikings (13-0) will play top-seeded Union (13-0) for its first Class 4A state football championship. At least two busloads of fans are making the 70-mile drive to the Tacoma Dome on Saturday anticipating a show at 7:30 p.m.
Long has delivered since wrestling the ball from coach Tom Tri’s hands to open the 2017 postseason. Bardue suffered a season-ending hand injury and, despite missing the previous five games due to mono and not playing a snap at quarterback that season, Long believed he was the right choice to run the offense.
“I kind of laughed at him,” Tri said. “We had already run through our whole script at practice, but he said, ‘No, coach. I really want to start.’ We talked for 15 more minutes, and I finally said I’d give him the call sheet and if (the next) morning at 6:30 a.m. he could go through the whole sheet and tell me what every route is, where the blitz might come from, we’ll talk about quarterback. … I’ll be darned if he didn’t come in and 100 percent run everything we did.”
Long completed 44 of 68 passes for 694 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in two postseason games. Lake Stevens lost its state tourney opener 38-31 to Graham-Kapowsin.
Long, who is 6 foot 1 and 195 pounds, has been even more impressive this season, completing 72.1 percent of his passes. He’s completed 166 of 230 passes for 2,522 yards with 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
“It’s nice because I’m in control of everything,” Long said. “The line respects me, and the receivers understand what I’m trying to do. Everything just works together.”
In many ways, a state run is what Tri, who has been with the program since 1998 and head coach since 2005, had in mind when he made a big change in the program.
For the 2008 season, Tri had a hunch he needed to tailor Lake Stevens’ offense to fit the more versatile athletes who streamed through the program. The result was switching to the spread offense.
Long led Lake Stevens to a sixth consecutive WesCo 4A championship, averaging 48.2 points per game.
“My favorite thing about Tre is his sophomore year, when Bardue was quarterback, Tre said he was going to find a way to help out the team,” Vikings lineman Devin Kylany said. “He started playing wide receiver and was one of the best blockers we had. Now, finally seeing him right where he wants to be, it’s awesome. He knows what to do.”
Lake Stevens’ plan on Saturday won’t be a secret to Union coach Rory Rosenbach.
The coaches became friends during Rosenbach’s first year at Glacier Peak in 2008. Tri was switching to the spread, which Rosenbach used to win two state championships in Oregon.
Through learning more about the offense, the pair became close friends. Even their wives consider each other friends. Tri said Rosenbach was one of the first calls he received congratulating the Vikings on reaching the program’s first state championship game since 1994.
Union, which opened in Vancouver in 2007, also hasn’t won a state championship. The Titans lost a Class 3A state title game 35-6 to Bellevue in 2008.
Rosenbach has a 3-1 edge, as Glacier Peak’s coach, against Tri’s Lake Stevens teams. They haven’t played each other as coaches since 2013.
But they will Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome. And in large part because Tri finally gave Long the ball.
“Tre’s really good on defense, and he’s pretty good at wide receiver,” Tri said. “But he’s proven himself that he’s that valuable of an offensive player that we have to have the ball in his hands as much as possible. That’s at quarterback.”