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High-flying Pacers ready to contend

by: VERN UYETAKE Clockwise from left: Ryan Wold, JJ Todd, Blake Dutton, Dylan Erwin and Tom Knecht will help lead an athletic Lakeridge football team this year that is no longer under the radar and one that hopes to improve on its fourth-place finish in league last year.

Last year the Lakeridge football team became dangerous once again. This year it hopes to be a legitimate contender in the Three Rivers League.

The Pacers have plenty of returners on a team that finished fourth in the league last year and won a play-in game to reach the playoffs.

"The kids met all of our expectations and we were really just a few points out of second place. This is the third year these kids have had with the same coach and that's kind of been unusual with Lakeridge recently," coach Tom Smythe said.

The Pacers will run Smythe's high-powered offense through quarterback Tom Knecht who started all of last year and part of his sophomore year.

"It's always nice to start with your quarterback returning. He's a three-sport athlete and he's really looked good," Smythe said.

Lakeridge has plenty of depth at receiver with senior Blake Dutton leading the way. Dutton could be one of the league's top receivers this season and had five touchdowns in the team's blowout victory over North Medford last week.

Brandon Loiler, Justin Luevano and Spencer Russell are all returning at receiver.

Running the ball for Lakeridge will be a pair of tailbacks in Dylan Erwin and Dylan Gaar.

"They're clones of each other right down to their names. They're both smaller but they're very quick and very good," Smythe said.

An early surprise for Lakeridge was the talent it will have at offensive line. Lakeridge has just one returning starter up front in Ryan Wold who will move over to center from guard this year but the rest of the line has come together nicely in early practices.

Randall Souers, Tyler Moncrieff, Joey Miller and Josh Bennett have solidified one of the biggest offensive lines Lakeridge has had in a few years.

Defensively Lakeridge expects to be very quick and active. The secondary is loaded with athletes like Mark Grothe, Johnny Clayton, Nick Yun, Corbin Bird, Tucker Trefzger and Nick Sotta, who returns as the team's placekicker again this season.

Another early bright spot for Lakeridge has been at linebacker. Early on it appeared this might be a weak spot for the team as it graduated both Myke Tavarres and AJ Frank but JJ Todd's move from the line to linebacker, along with Chris Scaffa's play has turned the position into a strength.

Dutton, Loiler and Rob Shiffer will also see time at linebacker.

"We're not huge on defense but we're very fast," Smythe said.

Up front on defense will be returners Matt Dungey and Connor Fewel along with Storm Olund.

"Our athleticism is really obvious. You can make up for a lot of mistakes with foot speed," Smythe said.

Lakeridge will look to spread opposing defenses out again this season and has already proven it can put up points in a hurry.

"I definitely think we'll be better than last year," Smythe said.

The Pacers will definitely be more tested in the preseason than they were last year.

Aside from North Medford, Lakeridge takes on defending champion Aloha along with North Salem and Hillsboro, a top-10 team last year.

"It's funny. Last year we went 4-0 to start and we were ranked near the bottom (in RPI). This year we could go 0-4 and might be in the top 10. But I like it. We need a challenge early on," Smythe said.

Lakeridge will look to improve in the league as well and hopes to at least be one of the three teams to automatically qualify for the playoffs.

"I think the league is probably better and the usual suspects are going to be very good again. The goal from day one has been to get Lakeridge football back to contending for championships like it used to," Smythe said.

Lakeridge Schedule

Sept. 9: Hillsboro 7 p.m.

Sept. 16: North Salem 7 p.m.

Sept. 23: @ Aloha 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 30 @ Clackamas 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 Lake Oswego 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 @ West Linn 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 @ Oregon City 7 p.m.

Oct. 28 Canby 7 p.m.

All games on Fridays except Oct. 13.

Game to Watch

Canby at Lakeridge

Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

The final league game of the season for both teams could have huge postseason implications. The teams battled in a hard-fought game last year that Canby narrowly won on its home turf. This year Lakeridge gets the Cougars on its artifical home field which should benefit the Pacers' team speed. Canby finished second in the TRL last year and returns one of the league's best quarterbacks. Lakeridge hopes to be in a battle for one of the league's three automatic playoff berths at the end of the season and a win against the big and talented Cougars would be another step in the rebirth of the program.