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Lakeridge starts season with road trip to Medford

by: VERN UYETAKE  Tom Knecht returns at quarterback to lead Lakeridge’s offense this year on a team that eyes a return to the playoffs.

This year's Lakeridge football team will be without at least one advantage that it enjoyed last season. It is highly unlikely that the Pacers will fly under anyone's radar this fall.

Lakeridge went undefeated in the preseason and finished fourth in the Three Rivers League, accomplishing coach Tom Smythe's goal of being competitive in every contest.

The Pacers nearly topped West Linn and Canby as well and hung with Lake Oswego until well into the second half of the Civil War.

The team also qualified for the playoffs with a lopsided play-in victory over McNary.

Lakeridge will open the season with a road trip to North Medford. The Black Tornado finished fifth in its league last year and beat Clackamas in a play-in game to qualify for the playoffs.

"It's going to be a challenge but I always like the overnight trip on the first week to have a chance to be with the team in a different environment," Smythe said.

Lakeridge will play a significantly more difficult preseason slate this year taking on Hillsboro and defending champion Aloha as well as North Salem which should help the Pacers' RPI ranking this year.

The Pacers return a strong senior class and will be led by returning quarterback Tom Knecht.

Knecht will have plenty of skill players to get the ball to as Lakeridge is very deep at receiver and tailback. Senior Blake Dutton is a returning two-year starter at receiver and will also play linebacker.

The Pacers also boast their biggest offensive line in a number of years, turning what was a potential question mark into one of the team's biggest strengths.

As usual, Smythe will look to utilize his team's speed and athleticism by spreading out opposing defenses.

The Three Rivers League is expected to be extremely balanced again this year but the Pacers expect to be in the running for a top-three showing and an automatic playoff berth and may contend for the league title as well.