Lake Oswego battles past Lakeridge 24-21 in 6A quarterfinals
Neither team was going to quit.
Neither team was going to stop making big plays.
In the end, the Lake Oswego football team used a stellar second-half defensive performance and another big day from senior running back Casey Filkins to outlast Lakeridge 24-21 in the Class 6A state quarterfinals at Lake Oswego High School on Friday, Nov. 22.
"Honestly, it felt amazing," said Lake Oswego senior linebacker and captain Connor Willihnganz, who helped the Laker "D" hold Lakeridge to just 38 yards in total offense in the second half before the Pacers' final possession. "Just being a senior here for my last game and winning it at Cobb Field and getting to advance, there's no better feeling."
"It feels great. It was a whole team effort," said senior linebacker Cooper Winn, who came back from injury to notch two sacks in the second half. "I've been hurt for the last three weeks but got to come back the second half. I think the whole team played together and we did a great job."
With the win — the Lakers' fourth straight — third-ranked Lake Oswego improved its season record to 10-2 and won a berth in the state semifinals. There, the Lakers will face No. 2 Jesuit (10-2 overall) — a 42-28 winner over Tualatin on Friday — at Hillsboro Stadium on Friday, Nov. 29.
While the Lakers beat the Crusaders 44-41 back on Sept. 13, Lake Oswego's players know that facing Jesuit in the semifinals will present a different and bigger challenge.
"We've got to battle in the trenches," said Lake Oswego senior wide receiver/cornerback Thomas Dukart, who recovered a fumble against Lakeridge for the game's only turnover. "They are a run-first team so we've got to rest up this week and get healthy."
"(It's) just believing in ourselves and knowing we can do it," explained Laker senior offensive lineman Niko Smith, who helped his team rush for 288 yards on Friday. "They always say it's hard to beat a team twice, but history shows (we'll have a) pretty good (chance) with that."
No. 22 Lakeridge, meanwhile, saw its stirring playoff run stopped after upsetting both No. 11 Beaverton and No. 6 Aloha in successive weeks. Further, the Pacers gave the Lakers all they wanted, leading 14-7 at the half and closing within three points in the game's final minutes.
"I just told the team, 'It sucks that we lost, but I'm so proud of the way we played today,'" said Lakeridge senior quarterback Cooper Justice, who went 10 of 17 passing for 108 yards and also ran seven times for 60 yards. "We so easily could have quit, but we didn't. We fought back, all the way to the end."
"We weren't supposed to be in the playoffs," said Lakeridge senior lineman Kai Tinker, who helped the Pacers rush for 258 yards as a team. "We weren't supposed to win the first round or the second round, and we sure as hell weren't supposed to win this one, but you know what? We won those games and we were about to win this one. It didn't go our way, but I'm so proud of these boys. They worked so hard and I'm so proud of them."
"We were doubted. We finished the regular season 3-6," added senior wide receiver Bryson Corbin, who made two catches for 25 yards and one TD. "At the end of the regular season, we were like, 'Well, are we even going to make playoffs?' But I knew, I knew, once we got in that we were going to go far."
Lake Oswego took the early lead on Friday when Filkins broke free on the fifth play of the game and raced 51 yards to score and give his team a 7-0 edge.
But Lakeridge came back and came back strong, getting a 40-yard run by Justice on its second play from scrimmage, and on the next play, a 44-yard TD run around right end by senior back Jalen John to tie the score at 7-7 with 8 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
While neither team scored again in the first, the Pacers took possession at the end of the quarter and drove 68 yards to score from there. Justice hit senior Xander Houck for 20 yards to start that series — a play that saw Houck leave the game with an injured right leg — and after that, Justice hit senior Carson Mike twice for 20 yards and John did the rest, capping the drive with a run up the middle that he cut to his right and sped 17 yards to score and give his team a 14-7 lead that held up until the half.
Despite their deficit, the Lakers — who rallied from two scores down to beat West Salem a week earlier — did not panic.
"No nerves. Not at all. We knew it. We knew that we had it after last week," Smith said. "(Lake Oswego head coach Steve) Coury just reminded us that last week, we were down two scores, and here, we were just down one score so no difference — just less points so even easier for us."
"We took motivation from (the win over West Salem) because we were down two touchdowns then and we saw, if we can do that one time, we can do it again," Dukart said. "And we beat them before so we knew we could do it."
The second half, however, was a different story. The Lakers forced a turnover on the Pacers' first series — a Justice fumble that Dukart recovered at the Lakers' 40-yard line — and went down to score and tie the game at 14-14. Filkins carried eight times on the drive for 69 yards, including a 1-yard burst over the left side with 4:12 to go in the third period.
Next, the Lakers got a break that also played a big part in their victory. The LO "D" stopped Lakeridge after just one first down, and when Pacer junior Andrew Oliver punted the ball away, Lake Oswego junior Malcolm Williams signaled for a fair catch but fumbled the ball and Lakeridge sophomore Zac Waible recovered near midfield.
However, game officials ruled that they had blown their whistle before Williams tried to make his fair catch, Oliver was forced to punt again and the Lakers took over at their own 37.
From there, the Pacers were whistled for two 15-yard penalties, Lake Oswego sophomore running back Gabe Olvera carried four times for 15 yards, and finally, Laker senior Aaron Rudder drilled a 37-yard field goal for a 17-14 Laker lead 59 seconds into the fourth quarter.
There was more trouble ahead for the Pacers, too. Trapped in its own end and forced to punt from the 14-yard line, Lakeridge gave the ball back to the Lakers just 45 yards out of the end zone. From there, the Lakers scored in just six plays, five of them Filkins carries for 46 yards, including a draw over the left side for 24 yards and a TD that pushed the LO edge to 24-14 with 5:30 remaining on the clock.
The Pacers, after being stymied throughout the second half, came back with an amazing 80-yard drive that cut the Laker lead to 24-21 with 1:24 left to play. Senior running back Brian Hamlin — on in relief after John missed 13 minutes with an injury — carried twice for 25 yards while Justice hit 6 of 9 throws for 63 yards, including a 22-yard scoring strike over the middle that Corbin snared with an one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch at the back of the end zone.
But the Pacers would not see the ball again. Lake Oswego's Joe Hutson recovered the ensuing onside kick, and three plays later, the game was over.
"Lakeridge really came out. I have a lot of respect for them tonight," Willihnganz said. "They were talking, but they put up with their talking. They did a great job tonight."
"They've got a solid team … (but) the game plan was perfect going into the game," Winn said. "I think everyone came together and we just did a great job as a team."
On their side of the field, the Pacers were unabashedly proud of their efforts despite the loss.
"We finished the regular season 3-6 and nobody figured we'd make it this far in the playoffs," said Lakeridge senior running back/safety Caiden Biege-Wetherbee. "But each week, we worked harder and harder and got to this point.
"You know, it sucks not winning and it sucks not being able to play with them again, but I'm so proud of them and the work that they put in in the game that we played tonight. I'm so proud of them."
"The only people who believed in us at the end of the regular season was us," Corbin added. "(But) we just needed a confidence boost. We could have beaten any team in the state."
For the game, Filkins rushed 31 times for 225 yards and three TDs, and Olvera carried eight times for 41 yards. For Lakeridge, John rushed 26 times for 175 yards and two TDs, while senior receiver Carson Mike made seven catches for 72 yards.
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