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Pacers oust defending champs

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF / BOOMER REIFF Justin Luevano and Blake Dutton celebrate after Luevano’s interception sealed Lakeridge’s 47-40 win over Aloha.

Heading into last Friday's game, the Lakeridge team was enjoying its second consecutive 3-0 start but, also like last year, it was still a little difficult to ascertain just how strong the Pacers really were.

Despite efforts to improve its non-league competition, Lakeridge buried a trio of teams who have all been in the midst of a down year.

Friday's game against Aloha, the defending state champions with the state's top running back, was going to be telling.

And it was. Turns out Lakeridge is good. Very good.

The Pacers took Aloha's best shot as the Warriors racked up nearly 450 yards rushing but held on for a thrilling 47-40 victory on the road.

"It was a roller coaster. We thought we were showing up for a football game and it turns out it was a track meet," coach Tom Smythe said.

For as good as Aloha's ground attack was, Lakeridge's air assault was equally impressive. Tom Knecht racked up 410 yards passing and tossed three touchdown passes, never losing his cool as the Warriors mounted numerous comebacks.

"He is so calm under pressure. The kids play with confidence because of him," Smythe said.

Lakeridge got on the board first, driving into Aloha territory before settling for a 39-yard field goal from Nick Sotta.

But the lead didn't hold up for long. Ten seconds to be exact. Ryan Russo broke an 80-yard touchdown run on Aloha's first play from scrimmage for what would be the Warriors' only lead.

Lakeridge responded impressively, marching down the field again before Knecht hit Madison Pihl for a 12-yard score.

The Pacers came up with another stop and padded their lead a few minutes later when Knecht hit Blake Dutton for a 32-yard touchdown.

While Aloha had little trouble running the ball on the Pacers, Lakeridge did its part in forcing turnovers, getting the Warriors to fumble four times, three of which were recovered by Lakeridge.

With Lakeridge up 17-7, Aloha broke another huge play when Tyner returned the ensuing kick-off 99 yards for a score.

"Tyner's the real deal. He made us look foolish a few times but, in the big picture, I think we did a pretty good job against him," Smythe said.

And again the Pacers had an answer, marching all the way down to the seven-yard line before getting stopped. Sotta added his second field goal of the day midway through the second quarter.

Four minutes later, Lakeridge would get possession again and continued to torch Aloha's secondary.

Knecht hooked up with Spencer Russell for a 44-yard touchdown play but the extra point was blocked.

Aloha turned to the big play once more, handing the ball to Tyner who broke a 73-yard touchdown run with just 2:07 left in the half.

This time it took the Pacers just one minute to respond. In a huge answer to the Warriors, Dutton ran in from four yards out with 1:09 left in the second quarter, giving Lakeridge a 33-20 lead at the break.

Aloha was far from finished as the team was eager to get back in the win column after falling to Grant last week.

The Warriors scored midway through the third quarter, making it a one-score game.

Lakeridge was lightning-quick with another score, getting another rushing touchdown from Dutton, who was featured more in the running game.

"We felt we needed to do more than just throw it to him and it worked out well," Smythe said.

Lakeridge's offensive line also had its best showing of the season, not allowing a sack and opening holds against a large Aloha front.

"As a group they were just great. To not give up a sack against that group is just outstanding," Smythe said.

Lakeridge had a chance to go up by three scores in the second half but had a touchdown called back by a penalty. On the next play, Knecht threw a ball that was deflected for an interception.

Aloha would score again midway through the fourth quarter, keeping its hopes alive but, Lakeridge had one more answer on offense.

The Pacers turned to Dutton again, giving him the ball on a counter play. He spun through tacklers for a 26-yard score with 2:50 to play. Knecht then hit Justin Luevano for the two-point conversion but, amazingly, the game still wasn't over.

Aloha scored less than two minutes later and then recovered an onsides kick. The Warriors got into scoring range but Luevano dove to pick off an errant throw to seal a huge victory for Lakeridge.

"The whole experience was really positive. To knock off the defending champs at their place in that kind of atmosphere, I know our kids were excited," Smythe said.

The Pacers will take on Clackamas this Friday in their league opener.