CLACKAMAS - The seventh-ranked Lake Oswego Lakers were given a run for their money in a high-scoring high school football game at Clackamas last Friday.
Trailing 27-20 at halftime, the opportunistic Lakers rallied around running back Will Darkins, quarterback Duncan White and their second-half defense to earn a hard-fought 48-34 victory.
'They're the best team we've played in league,' said White of Clackamas. 'We knew their record wasn't indicative of how good they are.'
Friday's win put the Lakers at 5-0 in league (6-2 overall) and clinched at least a tie for first place in the Three Rivers League. After meeting West Salem in a non-league contest this Friday, the Lakers conclude their league season on Nov. 3, when they square off with cross-town rival Lakeridge (5-2, 3-1).
Clackamas, which has been challenged by a tough non-league schedule and the absence of star receiver Ricky Cookman, slipped to 1-3 in league (3-4 overall) with last Friday's loss.
Both teams put on an offensive show. White completed 12 of 16 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns and Darkins rushed 21 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
Clackamas quarterback Ryan Cook completed 15 of 25 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns and Cavalier running back Brad Wagner rushed 20 times for 167 yards and one touchdown.
Yet, with all of that offensive production, the game came down to defense. The Lakers made four critical defensive stops in the second half that propelled them to victory.
The Cavaliers were on the march with the score tied at 27-all midway through the third quarter when Lake Oswego junior cornerback Kyle Hayes stepped in front of Cookman for an interception at the Laker 1-yard line. Five plays later, Darkins burst through a hole in the left side of Clackamas' line and raced 55 yards for a touchdown that put the Lakers up 34-27.
Just four plays later, the Lakers stopped the Cavaliers on a fourth down play at the Cavalier 34. Lake Oswego receiver Jon Dulong made a diving catch in the end zone on a 34-yard pass from White, and the Lakers were in the driver's seat, leading 41-27.
Trailing 48-34, the Cavaliers were on the march midway through the fourth quarter when the Lakers stopped them on downs at the Lake Oswego 26.
And, as the game was winding down, Laker senior linebacker Eric Johnson picked off a wayward aerial at the Laker 10 to seal the win.
The first half saw wide swings in momentum. The Lakers built a 20-6 lead by early in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on runs of 47 and one-yard by Darkins and on a 36-yard pass reception by Franklin Forward.
But the Cavaliers fired up, scoring three touchdowns in the final six minutes of the second period to build a 27-20 lead by halftime.
Cookman capped off a 74-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Chance Martinez to trim Lake Oswego's lead to 20-13.
A 40-yard pass interception return by Greg Inahara set up a 14-yard scoring strike to Cookman that knotted the score at 20-20.
Clackamas defensive lineman Danny Kountz pounced on a fumble at the Laker 34, and Cook passed eight yards to Inahara to make it 27-20 Clackamas. But the turnovers went the other way in the second half, and the Lakers rallied for the hard fought victory.
The Lakers didn't waste any time turning things around. Kyle Lavender hauled in a short pass from White on the third play of the second half and rambled 44 yards to the game-tying touchdown.
'The key was not getting down at halftime,' said Dulong. 'We knew if we stuck together as a team we could pull it off.'
'We weren't playing with enough aggressiveness in the first half,' said White. 'We fired up at halftime and showed them the team that we can be.'
The quality of play and sportsmanship of both teams was reflected as the clock wound down ending the game. Before joining their teammates in the traditional exchange of handshakes at midfield, the players that were on the field embraced and shook hands at the line of scrimmage in a heartfelt demonstration of respect for one another's efforts.
'I think we played really, really well,' said Cookman. 'I think that if the game had lasted a little longer, we would have won….
'I can't wait until our next two games. We'll win those, and then it's on to the playoffs.'
Cookman, who is among the state's top receivers despite being out of action for three games, made five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in Friday's loss. The 6-3, 190-pound all-league wide receiver also threw a touchdown pass.
The Cavaliers can still advance to postseason play as the TRL's fourth representative if they defeat Putnam (4-3, 1-3) and Oregon City (0-8, 0-4) in their remaining league games.