The challenge has never been greater.
The opponent has never been tougher.
And the prize has never been bigger as the Lake Oswego football team prepares to face Central Catholic in the Class 6A state football championship.
The third-ranked Lakers (11-2 overall and winners of five straight games after finishing tied for second place in Special District 5) will face the No. 4 Rams (11-2 overall and winners of eight straight after winning Special District 4) at noon, Saturday, Dec. 7, at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Lakers — who have a chance to win a second straight state championship (they beat Sheldon 34-27 in the 2018 title contest) — know just how big a challenge they face.
"They had a really good game (in the semifinals) so we've got to watch some film on them," said Lake Oswego senior defensive end Marshall McGuire. "We got locked in (last week) and I don't expect any less for (this) week."
"It's going to take a whole week of good practice, a good game plan and LO 48," added senior wide receiver/defensive back Joe Hutson, referring to their team mantra "LO 48," a phrase that means the Lakers will continue to play hard for all 48 minutes of every game.
Likewise, the Rams — the last team to win back-to-back state crowns (in 2013-14) — know it will take a huge effort and a great day to win on Saturday.
"We are excited to play Lake Oswego, which is as good a program as there is on the West Coast," said Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne. "This will be a huge challenge for us."
The Rams' offense is led by quarterback Cade Knighton (a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior who's thrown for 3,022 yards with 34 TDs and four interceptions on 72 percent passing), running back Elijah Elliott (a 5-9, 175 senior who's rushed for 982 yards and 14 TDs on 117 carries), wide receiver Silas Starr (a 6-3, 195 senior who's made 50 catches for 1,118 yards and 11 TDs), wide receiver Kalvin Souders (a 6-3, 195 senior who's made 35 catches for 537 yards and 10 TDs) and running back Miles Jackson (a 6-0, 180 senior who's rushed for 517 yards rushing and eight TDs on 51 carries).
Up front, the Rams will call on linemen Andrew Gross (a 6-2, 275 senior), Daniel Pham (a 6-0, 275 senior), Logan Nomura (a 6-3, 250 senior) and Jordan Reed (a 6-3, 300 senior) to lead the way. Knighton was named the MHC Offensive Player of the Year.
"They're a great team," said Lake Oswego senior wide receiver/defensive back Thomas Dukart. "They have great wideouts like Silas Starr. We're probably going to have to figure out something there, but we got it."
"In looking at the matchup, we need to make sure that we protect the football and not give them extra opportunities," Pyne said. "It will be critical for us to be efficient with our possessions, stay ahead of the chains and keep drives alive."
For Lake Oswego, the Lakers' offensive unit looks to Filkins (5-11, 195) and his powerful offensive line to lead the way. The reigning Oregon Offensive Player of the Year, Filkins has rushed for 2,262 yards and 37 TDs on 283 carries, and down the stretch in 2019, has increasingly run the Laker offense out of the Wildcat formation, throwing for 329 yards and three TD passes with one interception in the playoffs.
"We've been building on this Wildcat offense ever since Tualatin so it's great to see it work out," Filkins said. "It was gratifying for us to come out and have success with those plays."
"Casey Filkins is as good a football player as any I have seen in the 30-plus years I have coached," Pyne said. "We need to try and limit his explosion plays and make them march the length of the field."
Beyond Filkins — the Special District 5 Offensive Player of the Year — the Lakers' offense looks to running back Gabe Olvera (a 5-9, 165 sophomore who's rushed for 444 yards and four TDs), wide receiver Joe Hutson (a 6-1, 170 senior first-team pick who's made 39 catches for 450 yards and three TDs), tight end Marshall McGuire (a 6-3, 210 senior second-teamer) and linemen Tiger Shanks (a 6-6, 315 senior first-team selection and SD5 Linemen of the Year), Cody Carlson (a 6-2, 255 senior and a first-team SD5 pick who's expected to return from injury for the title game), Niko Smith (a 6-1, 280 senior honorable mention pick) and Bailey Jaramillo (a 6-6, 320 junior honorable mention pick).
On "D," the Lakers have allowed fewer than 24 points per game and feature one of the deepest and best backfields in the state, that group led by Hutson (a first-teamer with two interceptions) and Jonas Hunter (a 6-0, 170 senior second-team selection with one pick) at cornerback, and Malcolm Williams (a 6-1, 155 junior second-team selection with four interceptions), Filkins, Dukart (a 6-2, 180 honorable mention pick) and Dylan Layne (a 6-0, 170 sophomore honorable mention pick) at safety.
Up front, the Lakers look to Carlson, McGuire and Julian Lopez (a 6-0, 195 junior second-teamer), that group aided at linebacker by Connor Willihnganz (a 5-10, 195 senior honorable mention pick) and Ty Miller (a 6-0, 200 junior honorable mention pick).
"They're a pretty good team, but at the end of the day, it's who has the better game plan and who can really win it," said Willihnganz, also a team captain.
"They are very well coached, they are gap and assignment sound, they run to the ball and play with tremendous effort," Pyne said.
On defense, the Rams are led by linebacker Joe Nizich (a 6-0, 195 senior with 71 tackles including four for loss) — he was the Special District 4 Defensive Player of the Year — linebacker Jack Brown (a 6-2, 190 junior with 63 tackles with 11 for losses), linebacker Clyde Bell (a 5-8, 235 senior with 62 tackles including eight for loss) and lineman Braeden Veary (a 5-11, 210 senior with 61 tackles including nine for loss).
"We can't make it bigger than it is — it's another game and it's the championship game against a really good Central team," Filkins said. "It's going to take all we've got, obviously — it's the last game of the year against a very good team."
"On the defensive side of the ball, we need to be sound tacklers and be gap sound as well," Pyne added. "In addition, Hutson and Dukart are big-play players and we need to limit them as well. We have our work cut out for us."
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