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Playoff hopes stuck in the mud

by: Carole Archer, Lakeridge’s Zach Young found running room hard to come by during last Friday’s football playoff game against Barlow. Hampered by a soggy, muddy field, the Pacers were limited to 120 yards of total offense and Barlow went on to win the game 30-6.

For a run-and-gun football team like Lakeridge, playing a smash-mouth team like Barlow on a torn-up, rain-soaked field last Friday seemed to be about as appealing as having a root canal done without the benefit of Novocain.

By the end of that first-round playoff game, which was contested at Mt. Hood Community College, it was painfully apparent that Lakeridge didn't have enough muscle to contend with Barlow's powerful inside running game.

The Bruins, who are bigger than Lakeridge at almost every position, didn't worry about throwing the ball. In fact, they attempted only four passes and completed none of them. Instead, they relied on a devastating, straight-ahead running attack that amassed 350 yards in the muck. That was more than enough to give Barlow a convincing 30-6 victory.

Lakeridge coach Rob Kool knew the wet conditions would have an adverse affect on the game. But he figured the Bruins would have just as much trouble with the difficult footing as the Pacers would have. Just to be prepared, Kool made his team practice in the mud all of last week.

'This wasn't as bad as the muck we practiced in,' Kool said as he looked at Mt. Hood's torn-up field. 'So I kind of thought we'd be better prepared.'

Kool also believed that two touchdowns would be enough to win the game. He turned out to be right, but he assumed Lakeridge would have the upper hand, not Barlow.

'We thought we'd be able to get two or three scores and then move on (to the next round),' Kool said. 'But they were able to put points on the board and we weren't.'

The odds might have a little more in the Pacers' favor if they had been at full strength coming into the game. Instead, Lakeridge had to go without multi-dimensional quarterback Robbie Kool, who suffered a broken collarbone the week before against Lake Oswego.

In his place was backup Spencer Trefzger, who did a credible job in his first varsity start. But the Bruins threw Trefzger and the rest of the Lakeridge offense a huge curve ball by changing their defensive alignment for Friday's game. As a result, the Pacers spent most of the first half spinning their wheels in the muck as they tried to find holes to run through.

It was an especially ugly sight in the first quarter. The Pacers ran six plays in that quarter and only two of those plays - a 22-yard reception by Jeff Hutchens and a four-yard catch by Taylor Young - went for positive yardage.

Counting the early stages of the second quarter, Lakeridge's first five running plays all went for negative yardage, including a 17-yard backwards lateral that nearly led to a Barlow touchdown.

By then, Barlow already had a 10-0 lead, thanks largely to the hard running of sophomore tailback Malcolm Johnson, who finished the game with 223 yards on 30 carries. But Lakeridge seemed destined to cut that deficit to 10-7 at halftime after a 21-yard run by Zach Young moved the Pacers to the Barlow 35. Unfortunately for Lakeridge, the drive ended there when Barlow's Tyler Mandeville intercepted a pass near the goal line.

Without a doubt, the complexion of the game would have changed if Lakeridge could have scored there.

'Barlow did some good things (on defense). They knew we were going to struggle to throw the ball in this weather,' coach Kool said. 'Had we been able to throw the ball a little better, I think we would have been able to put some more points on the board.'

In the second half, everything seemed to go Barlow's way.

The first evidence of that came on Barlow's first series of the third quarter when running back Eric Capelle seemed to be stopped for a loss on a third-and-long play. Apparently, Capelle had other ideas as he broke a tackle in the backfield, then bolted around the left end for a 54-yard gain to the Lakeridge 10-yard line. Two plays later, Josh McGraw scored from three yards out to give Barlow a commanding 17-0 lead.

Then, after a three-and-out series by the Pacers, Johnson appeared to be stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-two play. But the bruising ball carrier refused to go down and turned what could have been a loss into a 39-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead for the Bruins.

It almost seemed the Bruins were unaffected by the weather.

'The elements were a factor, but not as much for us,' Barlow coach Terry Summerfield said. 'We were able to do what we wanted to do. I thought our kids did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage.'

The Pacers finally had something good happen when Capelle fumbled away a punt late in the third quarter, giving Lakeridge the ball at the Barlow 43. Zach Young followed with a pair of runs for 35 yards and then capped Lakeridge's best drive of the game with a four-yard sprint to the end zone. But a failed two-point conversion attempt left the Pacers with a 24-6 deficit.

Whatever hope Lakeridge had for a comeback vanished quickly, though, when Barlow responded with a six-play scoring drive that ended with Johnson's 32-yard touchdown run.

There wasn't much Lakeridge could do at that point but start thinking about next year and what could have been this year.

'We fought pretty hard all season and we're proud of the kids,' coach Kool said. 'It was one heck of a season. I was just hoping we could go a little farther.'