by: Suzie Halberg, Lake Oswego running back Sam Buckingham, foreground, got a rare start in last Friday’s game against Oregon City. With starting running back Will Darkins recovering from the flu, Buckingham filled in by running for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

Lake Oswego's easy 35-7 victory over the Oregon City football team last Friday really didn't tell the whole story. The game was actually more lopsided than the score seemed to indicate.

For starters, there was Lake Oswego's 17-2 advantage in first downs. The host Pioneers didn't manage to move the chains until midway through the third quarter. The Lakers also had a whopping 208 to 31 advantage in rushing yardage, thanks largely to the efforts of backup running back Sam Buckingham.

The Lakers also enjoyed a decided 199 to 82 advantage in the passing department; and 73 of Oregon City's passing yards came on one play, when a Lake Oswego defender opted for a failed interception attempt rather than go for the deflection.

Any way you cut it, these were two teams headed in opposite directions. But Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury really didn't care who his team was playing. His only concern was the performance he got from his squad, and last Friday's effort left very little to complain about.

'I'm really proud of the way (we) played. That was high energy,' Coury said after the game. 'We tell them all of the time, 'it's not who you're playing. It's all about us.'

Coming into the game, there was no question who had the better team. The Lakers have been ranked as high as No. 2 this season and are still in the top 10 despite losing a pair of preseason games. The Pioneers, on the other hand, are winless in six tries and four of those losses were blowouts.

But the Oregon City faithful felt good about their chances after hearing that Lake Oswego running back Will Darkins was still recovering from a week-long bout with the flu and probably wouldn't play against the Pioneers even though he was suited down.

But the absence of Darkins, and his 556 yards rushing to date, were hardly missed. All Coury did was turn to Buckingham, who is probably good enough to start for a number of other teams in the state.

After seldom getting to carry the ball during his first season and a half with the varsity, Buckingham broke out in a big way against the Pioneers. He carried the ball 33 times for 168 yards and three touchdowns. And he did it in impressive fashion, running around, past and over defenders on seemingly every carry. It was almost like someone had cloned Darkins and put a different number on his jersey.

'He's a very explosive, tough, strong kid,' Coury said of Buckingham. 'He's a very good player, but we knew that.'

Darkins has performed so well over the last two-plus seasons that there's seldom been a chance for Buckingham, a junior, to show his stuff. When he got his opportunity against Oregon City, Buckingham made the most of it, but he also gave Darkins a lot of credit for being a mentor.

'He's a real good running back to follow and watch,' Buckingham said of Darkins, a senior. 'I learned a lot from him. So I just tried to take what he taught me and kind of apply it.'

Things actually got off to a bit of a slow start for Buckingham, who was held to 17 yards on his first five carries. But then the first-time starter broke lose in a big way. He followed with runs of six, seven, five, nine, 14 and five yards. During that stretch, Buckingham scored the Lakers' first touchdown and Lake Oswego never looked back.

Things were working so well by then, thanks partly to some superb blocking by the offensive line, that Coury and offensive coordinator Karl Halberg were calling Buckingham's number on almost every play. And the Pioneers could do nothing to stop the inevitable.

Lake Oswego's second possession of the second quarter started off with a 22-yard reception by Brent Robinson, who broke out with his biggest game of the year with four catches for 105 yards. Then, Buckingham carried four straight times, the last of which was a five-yard scoring run that gave the Lakers a 14-0 lead.

Lake Oswego seemed willing to take that lead into the locker room at halftime, especially when the Lakers faced a fourth-and-five situation with less than a minute left in the second quarter. But Jaron Fagan kept the drive alive when he caught a short pass from quarterback Duncan White and took it 25 yards to the Oregon City 9. Two plays later, White found Kyle Lavender in the back of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead for the Lakers.

Intermission had to come as a relief to the Pioneers, who failed to gain a first down and managed just 14 yards of offense in that half.

Amazingly, the Lakers were held scoreless in the third quarter, but not for lack of effort.

After Buckingham fumbled the ball away on Lake Oswego's first play of the third quarter, the Lakers' hard-nosed defense got the pigskin right back. One play later, the offense was back in business when White hit Robinson perfectly in stride on a 65-yard reception.

The next five plays went to Buckingham, but he fumbled the ball on the fifth carry and it rolled through and out of the end zone for a touchback.

There were no such foul-ups in the fourth quarter, though. The Lakers made it 28-0 with a quick, seven-play drive that included plays by five different players. There were short catches by Eric Mann and Robinson, plus a short run by Garrett Cook and a fourth-down reception by Eric Johnson. Then, Buckingham finished things off with a one-yard scoring plunge.

The Pioneers' only highlight of the night came moments later when Oregon City's Jake Nelson threw a long bomb up for grabs. The Lake Oswego defender went for the interception and missed, and Oregon City's Corey Misley came down with the ball and outran everyone for a touchdown.

Lake Oswego got that touchdown back on its next possession, which featured mostly backups. Second string quarterback Anthony Culver, who was also a key contributor on the defense, capped the drive with a 10-yard sprint to the pylon.

After the game, Buckingham was so pumped from his performance it looked as though he could play another 48 minutes. Of course, it helped that his line was opening huge holes for him.

'I had great blocking from my line,' Buckingham said. 'They had really good holes all night, and the fullbacks did a good job of kicking out, and I just put it up in there.'

Almost lost in all of the excitement was the fact that White had another outstanding game at quarterback. He hit 13 of 19 passes for 199 yards and one score. It's become a common stat line for White, who has been ranked all season among the top four or five quarterbacks in the state.

'Duncan is a force,' Coury said of his senior quarterback. 'You give him time to throw like that he's going to make some plays.'

But against Oregon City, it seemed everyone was making big plays.