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Lakers block their way to Three Rivers League title

by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Jaron Fagan, left, and Lakeridge’s Zach Young both go high for a pass that was intended for Young during last Friday’s Civil War game, which the Lakers won 24-14. With the victory, Lake Oswego won the Three Rivers League title and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs, which begin on Friday.

Through the last 35 years there have been a number of classic football games in the Lakeridge-Lake Oswego Civil War series. Last Friday's game, which Lake Oswego won 24-14 after scoring on three blocked kicks, will surely go down as one of the strangest games in the series.

It was a game in which the potent Lake Oswego offense was held to a meager 168 yards. That was partly due to some tenacious defense by Lakeridge. Plus, the Lakers had to play most of the contest without star running back Will Darkins, who suffered a sprained knee in the second quarter.

The equally potent Lakeridge offense also struggled at times but still managed out-gain the Lakers by 54 yards. That figure probably would have been even higher if not for the broken collarbone that Lakeridge quarterback Robbie Kool suffered on the first series of the game. Kool's absence almost certainly hindered Lakeridge's chances to win the game, but the worst news of the night came when the team doctor determined that Kool would not be available for the playoffs, which begin on Friday.

'The toughest blow was having Robbie break his collarbone,' the quarterback's father and Lakeridge coach Rob Kool said after the game. 'It's disheartening … But it's football and those things happen.'

Robbie Kool's injury occurred on the game's second play from scrimmage, when he was forced from the pocket and scrambled for 11 yards. The play ended with a hard hit to the left shoulder on a tackle that was credited to Darkins. Amazingly, the junior quarterback stayed in the game for a while and even carried the ball for a four-yard gain two plays later. A short time later, he hit Alex Gay for a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave Lakeridge a 7-2 lead. It was Kool's only pass attempt of the game.

It was the third season in a row that a Lakeridge player suffered a severe injury in the annual game against Lake Oswego. Two years ago, Pacers quarterback Brian Carter suffered torn ligaments and nerve damage on a hard hit to his throwing arm. Last year, Steven Swinford suffered a concussion while trying to tackle Darkins on a running play. Then came Kool's injury last Friday.

The Pacers made the best of a bad situation with 5-foot-10 junior Spenser Trefzger seeing his first significant time at quarterback. Trefzger appeared nervous early but he did a credible job of moving the team, and he showed he could do it with his arm, if necessary.

'His first (extended action) happened to be in a Three Rivers League championship game. I'm sure he was a little nervous,' coach Kool said of his backup signal-caller, who completed 11 of 21 passes for 136 yards. 'I thought he played hard and kept his wits about him. He did a good job.'

But it might have taken an incredible effort to overcome the problems that Lakeridge experienced on special teams.

It was at the end of the game's opening series when the contest took its first big turn. It started when Lake Oswego's Ryan Shepherd blocked a punt by Lakeridge's Spencer Halvorsen. The force from Shepherd's block caused the ball bounce crazily towards the goal line. Eventually, Halvorsen was able to recover the ball, but he was just inside the end zone which resulted in a safety and a 2-0 lead for the Lakers.

'Our special teams were huge,' said Shepherd, who was given credit for the safety for diving on top of Halvorsen in the end zone.

The game then continued its strange ways when Lake Oswego fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Three plays later, Robbie Kool hit Gay on a screen play that gave Lakeridge its first and only lead of the game at 7-2.

Then, Darkins left his mark before being forced from the game. He ran the ball eight times for 31 yards on the Lakers' next possession. But his last run was for minus three yards on a fourth-down play deep in Pacers territory.

The Pacers then put together their longest drive of the game, moving from their own 5-yard line to the Lakers' 10. The big plays in that march were back-to-back passes from Trefzger to Taylor Young that chewed up 46 yards. But the drive stalled when Trefzger was sacked on third down by Kyle Lavender. That forced the Pacers to attempt a 36-yard field goal.

But Nick Poggi's attempt never made it to the line of scrimmage as the Lakers' Garrett Cook broke through the middle and batted the ball into the air. Jaron Fagan then grabbed pigskin and ran untouched for a 75-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion pass from Duncan White to Eric Johnson, the Lakers had the lead for good at 10-7.

After a three-and-out series by the Pacers, the Lakers came back to score their first and only offensive touchdown of the game. The score came on a five-yard run by Sam Buckingham, who was filling in for Darkins and rushed for a team-high 36 yards on 12 carries.

Buckingham's score was followed a short time later by another special teams touchdown by the Lakers. This time, a bad snap caused enough of a delay that Halvorsen couldn't kick the ball away before the Lakers' rushers had swarmed him. Adam Garside got there first and blocked the kick into the end zone. A host of Lakers then had a chance to recover it but it was Matt Stutes who came up with the ball and the score, which put Lake Oswego ahead 24-7.

'We had a couple of snafus on special teams,' coach Kool said. 'That was a little disappointing. Obviously it cost us the football game.'

Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury had predicted ahead of time that special teams would loom large.

'I told our kids before the game that special teams will have a big effect,' he said.

Amazingly, the Lakers got shut out in the second half as the Pacers' defense stiffened even more than before. In fact, the only second-half score came on a late third-quarter run by Zach Young, who led all rushers with 92 yards.

Coming into the game, Coury was worried that Zach Young would reel off a couple of his patented long runs that can change the momentum of the game. But his longest run against the Lakers was 14 yards.

'For the most part, we stopped him,' Coury said of Zach Young. 'We didn't let him cut back and we didn't over-pursue. We worked all week on building a fence around him.'

'We were prepared for (the Young brothers) all week,' Shepherd said. 'We got a little more of their trash talking than we expected … But hey, (the Youngs) are great players and I respect them a lot.'

Despite being able to hold Lakeridge's offense at bay for most of the game, Coury was still relieved to get out the Civil War clash with a victory.

'It's just good to win,' the coach said.

If the Pacers had won the game, Lakeridge, Lake Oswego and West Linn would have ended up in a three-way tie atop the TRL standings. In that case, a coin flip would have been needed to break the tie. That flip was held before the game and, ironically, Lake Oswego won the toss while West Linn was second and Lake Oswego. That wound up being the same order the teams finished for real. So, last Friday's almost didn't need to be played.

'(The game) didn't change anything,' coach Kool noted.

'And then you have injuries,' he added.

That was the worst part.