Lakers finish the job — in style
Team dedicates first 6A state championship to coach Jeff Young
'Finish' was Lake Oswego's motto through the 2011 football season.
Finish games. But more specifically, finish the season with a state championship.
The Lakers did it in style Saturday, blowing away Sheldon 47-14 in a matchup of unbeatens in the chill of the afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field.
It was the first state football title for Lake Oswego and its revered coach, Steve Coury, who has knocked on the door several times in his 20 years but had never ended a season with a championship trophy.
The Lakers got one emphatically, then presented it to their biggest source of motivation - long-time assistant coach Jeff Young.
Young, stricken with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but watching pridefully from his wheelchair, was surrounded by cheering players as Coury planted the trophy on his lap afterward.
Moments before, in a private moment in a very public setting shortly after the game's conclusion, Coury and Young had tearfully exchanged words at midfield.
'I told him I love him, and how much he has meant to this program,' Coury, 53, said later. 'I was hoping I'd be able to do that some day. I'm glad it happened.
'Jeff has an ugly disease that is taking a piece of his life every day. I just wonder how much longer I'm going to be here, how much longer he's going to be here and how many more chances we're going to get. It's such a relief to be able to hug him and hand him that trophy. It's a dream come true.'
Though disabled, Young has remained a part of the Lake Oswego program.
'Every week, he writes a message to the team, and Steve has one of the other coaches read it,' said the coach's father, Dick Coury, still spry at 82.
Lake Oswego has been one of the state's storied programs for years. The Lakers have reached at least the state quarterfinals for 10 straight years, and were making their fourth appearances in the finals. But they'd never won it until Saturday.
'Everyone says there was a curse,' said Stevie Coury, the coach's son who caught three passes for 40 yards Saturday. 'There was no curse. We just didn't finish in the past. We came out and did it today.'
The Lakers scored the game's final 33 points, outscoring Sheldon 30-0 in the second half en route to one of the most lopsided finals ever. The margin of victory was the third-greatest ever, eclipsed only by The Dalles' 47-7 rout of Hillsboro in 1947 and Jesuit's 56-7 beat-down of Southridge in 2006.
The Oregon School Activities Association doesn't keep records, but I'm doubtful that many running backs have ever had a game in the big-school state finals as did Lake Oswego's Steven Long.
The 5-8, 175-pound senior - held to 60 yards on 16 carries in a semifinal victory over Jesuit - was in full bloom against the Irish, exploding for 322 yards and four touchdowns in 42 carries.
The Portland State-bound Long drew gasps when he broke through the line, cut left and raced 51 yards for a TD and a 24-14 Laker lead with 10:49 left.
Then he sealed the win with a suitable-for-framing 50-yard score on a draw play, slipping through tackles and finding the end zone for a 38-14 fourth-quarter advantage.
'I told him after that last touchdown run, 'That was a pretty good run,'" coach Coury said with a smile. 'He was incredible.
'The offensive line had a lot to do with that. They dominated the line of scrimmage. I was really proud of those guys. But he's a great running back. I'm glad he was on our side.'
The Lake Oswego offense grabbed the headlines, but the Lakers' performance on the other side of the ball caught my eye, too. Their 3-5 defensive set gave Sheldon quarterback Dillon Miller all day to throw but left eight men in coverage.
Miller - son of ex-NFL quarterback and current Arizona Cardinals QB coach Chris Miller - had thrown for 3,360 yards and 36 TDs with six interceptions going into Saturday's game. Against the Lakers, the 6-1, 185-pound senior completed 16 of 34 passes for 136 yards and no scores with a pair of picks.
'Our kids flew around and took care of the screens that (the Irish) do,' Coury said. 'The coverages we were playing, we were trying to confuse them. (Miller) is a great quarterback, and we were able to hold him down a little bit.'
The emphasis all season has been to win one for Young. It was a rallying cry for the Lakers, and understandably so.
I'm happy, though, for Coury, who has long maintained his career wouldn't be defined by not winning a state title. I know he is happy for his assistant coaches, many of them who have been with him for years.
'They have been close so many times,' said Dick Coury, the former pro coach who has served as a volunteer coach at LO over the years. 'Steve has a great coaching staff, and I'm happy for every one of them.'
Steve Coury has inspired loyalty within and around his program. It has become a tradition for former players to return to the school for a practice during the Thanksgiving weekend.
'We had 30 kids come back and see us this year,' offensive coordinator Karl Halberg said. 'That's what it's all about for us.'
Halberg and Coury were roommates and teammates at Oregon State. Halberg has been a member of the Laker staff for all of Coury's 20 years on the job.
'Best guy ever,' Halberg said of his comrade. 'Great coach, best friend for way longer than I can remember.
'I couldn't be more excited to see us win one for him.'
In Coury's mind, it was about winning one for Jeff Young.
'And beyond that, for the players and their parents, for the coaches and teachers at our school, for our community,' the coach said. 'That's what it's about.'
It was about finishing. On Saturday, the Lakers couldn't have done it better.