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Lakers one win away again

by: VERN UYETAKE  Connor Griffin takes the ball away from a pair of Jesuit defenders on the first play from scrimmage in last week’s semifinals game. Griffin had two touchdown receptions in the game.

At some point, the Lake Oswego football team is simply going to run out of ways to play nail-biting playoff games. Fortunately for the Lakers, last Saturday's thriller went their way as time ran out on Jesuit in a 21-13 victory.

Now Lake Oswego stands on the precipice of its first state football championship yet again with another familiar and formidable opponent in its way.

If this is finally the Lakers year they will have earned the prize the hard way, grinding out a win over heated rival Jesuit, then knocking off Sheldon in what has virtually become an annual game between the two schools.

On Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field, Jesuit gave Lake Oswego its best shot, pounding the Lakers with a relentless running attack behind its massive offensive line and stuck Lake Oswego with its first halftime deficit of the season.

But the Lakers made enough adjustments in the second half and came up with enough big plays on defense to take down the Crusaders for the second time this season.

No one expected the rematch to be anything like the team's first meeting where Lake Oswego posted 49 straight points en route to a blowout victory and those predictions turned out to be right.

Instead, much of Saturday's semifinal seemed to play directly into Jesuit's hands. The Crusaders were able to pound the ball, control the clock and slow the Lakers down offensively. But Lake Oswego was patient and opportunistic in its victory, showing yet another side to what has already been lauded as an exceptionally versatile team.

Lake Oswego started the game quickly, getting a terrific 34-yard catch by Connor Griffin on the first play from scrimmage, followed by a screen pass that went for 20 yards by Jack Anderson.

The Lakers then moved to the four-yard line but a pair of incomplete passes, including one that was dropped in the end zone on fourth, gave the ball to Jesuit.

"That was a tough way to start, to come away without any points. We were pretty disappointed," coach Steve Coury said.

From that point on, quarterback Alex Matthews would be nearly perfect from that point on.

Jesuit took over at the four-yard line and methodically moved the ball down the field, primarily behind runningback Morgan Sellers.

The Crusaders converted on fourth-and-inches and then, on fourth-and-two, Sellers broke a 23-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds left in the first quarter to strike first.

Jesuit went 96 yards on 17 plays, 16 of which were runs.

But Lake Oswego responded quickly. The Crusaders remained determined to stop the Lakers' running attack and were effective in doing so. They also made more of an effort to contain big-play threat Stevie Coury, who torched them in the preseason.

That left openings for other receivers as Jesuit's cornerbacks played well off the line of scrimmage.

Matthews hit Anderson three times on the team's next drive and the Lakers were aided by a personal foul penalty on Jesuit which set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Griffin which tied the game.

"We thought with their bubble coverage we might be able to take advantage of it," Anderson said.

Jesuit took over at the 20-yard line and again went back to the run, getting deep into Lake Oswego territory again before a fumble was recovered by Evan Scheurlein.

Holding on to the ball has been an issue for Jesuit all season long and it would turn out to be the team's undoing. The Crusaders actually fumbled on their first three possessions but were fortunate that the ball went out of bounds on two of those occasions.

"We just kept fighting on defense. We watched the film and saw that they fumble a lot so we tried to get at the ball," Anderson said.

Lake Oswego failed to take advantage though and went three-and-out on its next drive and was forced to punt.

Jesuit was able to work its way into scoring range again before the half but settled for a 33-yard field goal that split the uprights, giving the Crusaders a 10-7 lead at the break.

Jesuit also started the third quarter with the football and considering that the Lakers had possession in the first half for less than eight minutes and hadn't done much to stop the run, the feeling was that if the Crusaders marched down for another touchdown to go up by two possession, the Lakers could be in serious trouble.

But Jesuit stayed conservative, running the ball three straight times to start the third quarter, including on third-and-seven and went three-and-out.

"We just had to keep doing our job and try to stick it to them up front," lineman Remi Rufai said.

Lake Oswego took over at its own 37-yard line and Matthews hit Anderson and Coury for first downs before finding Griffin wide open after a defensive breakdown on a 30-yard touchdown, giving the Lakers their first lead of the game.

"Alex made some big throws. They wanted to take Stevie out of it and he was able to exploit them with Jack and Connor," coach Coury said.

Jesuit went back to work, getting a 34-yard pass play on a reception by tight end Henry Mondeaux. The Crusaders continued to pound the ball with Sellers who had 184 yards on the ground for the game.

Jesuit moved inside Lake Oswego's five-yard line but then went backwards with a pair of false starts that forced the team to settle for another short field goal, leaving the score at 14-13 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Lakers regained possession at their 37-yard line and drew a pass interference call on third down to open the drive.

But Lake Oswego was flagged for holding twice on the drive. On the second holding penalty, Jesuit opted to accept it. Instead of facing fourth down, Lake Oswego was pushed back to its 28-yard line for third-and-22.

The Lakers would make the Crusaders regret that decision on the very next play as Matthews hit Walen inside the five-yard line. Walen then absorbed a big hit and went into the end zone and Harrison Greenberg's extra point but the team up 21-13 with 7:34 to play.

Jesuit picked up a first down on its next possession but was stymied by a holding penalty and eventually forced with fourth-and-nine.

The Crusaders threw a deep pass and Anderson intercepted it at the team's 13-yard line.

The Lakers looked to put the game away, getting a first down reception and a first down run by Steven Long but Lake Oswego fumbled on its next play, turning the ball over for the first time all game at an extremely inopportune time.

Jesuit quickly moved to Lake Oswego's 21-yard line but Jordan Horak came up with a big tackle for a one-yard loss and, on the next play, Horak recovered a fumble by Jesuit quarterback Nicholas Rothstein with 1:39 to play in the game.

However, Jesuit still had time outs and the Lakers would need to pick up a first down to clinch the game.

Lake Oswego ran the ball three straight times with Long but came up inches short on third down and ultimately decided to punt.

Jesuit started on its own 46-yard line but got a 17-yard scramble from Rothstein and then a huge 34-yard completion from Mondeaux to the three-yard line.

"I thought we had the game a few times and then we had the fumble and were in position to knock the ball down but their tight end was able to make a play," Coury said.

With no time outs remaining, Jesuit hurried to the line with less than 20 seconds to play and the clock running after the chains moved.

The Crusaders went back to their bread and butter, handing the ball to Sellers but he was stopped for no gain by Mitch Lomax and Turner Young.

"On that last play I was just thinking about what our assistant coach Jeff Young said to us and that was 'inches make championships.' That was going through my head," Rufai said.

Again Jesuit scrambled to the line of scrimmage as the clock continued to run and spiked the ball but when the referees blew their whistles the clock read 0:00.

Lake Oswego started to celebrate but the referees forced the team back to the sideline for a discussion as Jesuit complained that the officials hadn't spotted the ball quickly enough and that there should have been one second remaining for a final play.

But after a brief conference, the head official held the ball over his head, signaling the game was over which set off an emotional celebration by the Lakers.

"I'm just feeling a lot of confidence and love for this team with everything we've done," Rufai said.

Lake Oswego advances to its fourth championship game since 2002 and will face the team it lost its first title game appearance to in Sheldon.

"Nothing changes for us this week. We've been here before and it hasn't worked out. It's an accomplishment for these kids and it's well-deserved. We know next week the season's over no matter what," Coury said.

The Irish and Lakers have been on a collision course practically since the beginning of the season. Sheldon entered the year as the preseason favorite and has run the table, including winning a closer-than-expected semifinal over Central Catholic on Saturday.

Sheldon has a prolific passing attack similar to what Lake Oswego saw against Skyline earlier in the year.

The Lakers convincingly knocked off Sheldon in the quarterfinals of last year's playoffs.

The championship game will be at 1 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field.