Unbeaten, top-ranked Lakers loom in semis
Lake Oswego already owns one win over the Crusaders this season
PORTLAND - You don't always get a second chance to make a good first impression, but that's exactly what the Jesuit football team is aiming for this week.
Jesuit, the Metro League co-champion at 9-3 overall, gets a second chance to beat Lake Oswego, and gets that chance on one of the state's biggest stages - the two teams will meet in the Class 6A state semifinals at noon on Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field. The winner will advance to meet either Sheldon or Central Catholic in the Class 6A state championship at 1 p.m. Dec. 10 at Jeld-Wen Field.
But beating the Lakers (12-0), the Three Rivers League champions, is a huge challenge, and the Crusaders know it, especially after suffering a 49-21 loss to Lake Oswego back on Sept. 23.
'They're a really good team,' said Jesuit senior tailback Morgan Sellers, who ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns in his team's quarterfinal victory over Tigard. 'They beat us pretty soundly here on national TV, but it will be a nice chance for us to see how we've improved and see if we can get them this time.'
'It's going to take a lot of watching film on huddle, getting to know our keys, watching their tendencies and just seeing what we need to do to stop them,' said sophomore linebacker Joey Alfieri.
The Lakers, however, are far from easy to stop. Lake Oswego, the top-ranked team in the state, averages almost 46 points per game and features a devastatingly dangerous balanced attack.
The LO running game is highlighted by senior tailback Steven Long (5-foot-8, 175 pounds), a player who has rushed for 1,823 yards and 34 touchdowns on 235 carries behind junior guard Austin Faunce (6-1, 210), senior tackle Turner Young (6-0, 240), junior center Kyle Peterson (6-1, 210), junior guard Noah Peterson (6-5, 270), senior tackle Arthur Drake (6-0, 240) and senior tight end Zach Whalen (6-3, 190).
The Lakers are tough through the air too, with senior quarterback Alex Matthews (6-3, 200) hitting on 70 percent of his passes for 2,235 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His favorite target, by far, is senior wide receiver Stevie Coury (5-11, 165), a player with 48 catches for 1,187 yards and 14 TDs.
'They're a balanced attack everywhere. If you stop the run, you've got to watch the pass,' said Jesuit senior linebacker Robert Strys, who had an interception in the win over Tigard. 'We just have to figure stuff out and be ready to beat them.'
'In the open field, Long is very good and very fast,' said Jesuit coach Ken Potter. 'Their quarterback throws very well, but when he completes (a pass), we need to be there to make tackles.'
Indeed, stopping LO's tendency to make big plays will be key to Jesuit's chances at success. In the Lakers' previous win over the Crusaders, Jesuit led 14-0 in the first quarter, but saw that lead dissipate quickly as LO hit on five touchdown plays of 35 yards or longer, three of those on plays of 52 yards or more.
'The last time we played them, we gave up way too many big plays,' Potter said. 'Cutting down on those, that's where it starts right there.'
'At this point in the season, you have to be able to run the ball so that's our initial thought,' said Laker coach Steve Coury. 'Then, if they want to take it away so much, you have to be able to throw it, and that's where our balance comes in.'
Offensively, Jesuit is no slouch itself. The Crusaders average almost 39 points per game and feature one of the state's best rushing attacks, averaging 351 yards per game led by junior tailback AJ Glass (6-0, 196), Sellers (5-9, 182) and senior quarterback Nicholas Rothstein (5-11, 205).
Glass has amassed 2,024 yards and 23 TDs on 293 carries, while Sellers has 890 yards and 12 scores, and Rothstein 968 yards and 13 TDs. Rothstein has also thrown for 734 yards with nine TDs and 10 interceptions while completing 46 percent of his throws. Senior Adam Winterling (6-5, 199) leads Jesuit with 29 catches for 613 yards and nine scores.
Jesuit also features one of the state's biggest and strongest offensive lines, including junior tackles Max Rich (6-7, 280) and Andrew Kirkland (6-5, 284), senior guard Austin Griffin (6-5, 338), junior guard Dominic Baldocchi (6-2, 250), senior center Dom Mori (6-1, 244), and tight ends Henry Mondeaux (a 6-4, 224 sophomore) and Mike Ralston (a 6-5, 233 junior).
'That's the key to the game,' Coury said. 'We have to be able to slow them down and hang in there against their huge offensive line and get the ball back.'
Defensively, the Lakers allow 19 points per game, led there by five first-team all-Three Rivers picks - senior lineman Remi Rufai (6-3, 225), junior linebacker Mitch Lomax (6-3, 225), Whalen at linebacker, senior cornerback Alec Torkelson (5-7, 170), and junior safety Jack Anderson (6-2, 185), who leads his team with seven interceptions.
Other defensive stalwarts for the Lakers are Faunce, senior linebacker Kyle Cameron (5-9, 180), and senior cornerback Jasper Yildirim (6-1, 170).
On their side, the Crusaders allow 21 points per game, led by four first-team all-Metro selections - sophomore defensive end Christian Martinek (6-3, 205), senior linebacker Joseph Ducharme (6-0, 195), Alfieri (6-1, 191), and Rothstein at cornerback.
Other all-leaguers on the defensive side of the ball for Jesuit are junior lineman Doug Brenner (6-3, 262) and senior safety Drew DeMarco (5-10, 155).
'We always thought (that reaching the semifinals) was a possibility, but over the weeks, we've grown as a team,' Alfieri said. 'We love one another and trust one another and we've just got to work hard and get ready for next week.'
'It's going to be fun,' Griffin said. 'We just need to work hard, do what we need to do, play the game.'
'It will be nice. We've improved tremendously,' Sellers added. 'I'm just excited to play them.'