On the surface, it seemed that the Lakeridge football team nearly got caught looking ahead to this week's showdown with arch-rival Lake Oswego.

But looking ahead wasn't Lakeridge's only problem last Friday. The Pacers simply ran into a team that finally put it all together after struggling almost the entire season. The Pacers also were hindered by injuries to three defensive starters.

So, Lakeridge had to feel fortunate just to escape senior night with a 34-27 victory. It was a game in which Milwaukie held the lead three times, including the last time as the game headed into the fourth quarter.

'A lot of things, when added together, caused us not to play our best,' Lakeridge coach Rob Kool said.

Complicating matters for the Pacers was the fact that Milwaukie played its best game of the season. That was a big turnaround for a team that had gotten blown out a few times earlier in the campaign.

'I knew they were a much improved team,' Kool said of the Mustangs. 'And I knew they were going to come out and play hard.'

There didn't seem to be much to worry through the first period, though, as the Pacers jumped to a 10-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Nick Poggi and a 19-yard scoring run by Zach Young.

But the second quarter belonged entirely to the visiting Mustangs. Milwaukie got its first score when Sean Scott broke loose for a 25-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Andrew Lee followed later with an 11-yard scoring run that gave Milwaukie a 14-10 lead at halftime.

'Now you're in a battle,' Kool said.

But from the Mustangs' perspective, they were beginning to think that they could win the game.

The teams then traded a series of scores during the third quarter. The run started with Erik Hillier's 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Then, Scott scored on a short run to put Milwaukie back in front at 21-17

Lakeridge's Taylor Young answered a short time later with a 13-yard scoring run, which gave Lakeridge the lead back at 24-21. Then, Milwaukie returned the favor when Paul Hubbard scored on a 17-yard pass from Lee to put the Mustangs back in front at 27-24.

Kool admitted later that he was frustrated after seeing his team give up the lead for the third time. But no one on the Pacers' side was panicking.

'I felt we were going to score again as long as we didn't turn the ball over,' Kool said.

Sure enough, the Pacers got the lead back for good in the fourth quarter when Taylor Young hauled in a 15-yard scoring toss from Robbie Kool, which made the score 31-27. Later, Poggi put the finishing touches on the victory when he hit a 31-yard field goal.

Coach Kool loved the way his team played on offense. That included 104 yards rushing and another 160 yards passing by Robbie Kool. Plus, Zach Young ran for 88 yards, and Taylor Young, Jeff Hutchens and Cam Gerson combined for nine catches for 144 yards. But it took that kind of an effort to hold off a pesky Milwaukie team.

'Give (Milwaukie) all the credit in the world,' coach Kool said. 'I think they're a much improved football team since the beginning of the year.'

Things won't get any easier for the Pacers, who play Lake Oswego on Friday when the league title will be up for grabs.

'It's no secret that we have to slow down their power game to have any chance to win,' coach Kool said. 'If we don't do that, then we'll be in trouble.'

'But we also have the kind of offense that could cause them some problems.'

One thing is for sure. No one will be looking past that game.

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