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No doubt about it

Lake Oswego buries Sheldon in the second half en route to a 47-14 win, capturing the school's first football state title.
by: VERN UYETAKE The Laker sideline celebrates after J.B. Holmes punches in the team’s final touchdown in the game, putting the Lakers up 47-14.

If there had been a curse hovering over Lake Oswego's football team, that's not the way it would have been broken. If something supernatural had been interfering with the Lakers' ability to win a state championship, there would have been some grand and symbolic moment that fans and players alike could point to as the obvious difference between this season - this game - and those earlier contests that ended in heartbreak.

There was none of that at Jeld Wen Field on Saturday. No, all it took for Lake Oswego to claim its first state football title in school history was for the best team on the field to win the game. And the Lakers did that. Convincingly.

After a hard-fought first half, Lake Oswego buried Sheldon in the second half, outscoring the Irish 30-0 backed by another unworldly performance from Steven Long in a 47-14 victory.

Long ran for 322 yards on 42 carries and broke touchdown runs of 50 and 51 yards, capping a remarkable high school career that saw him garner state championships at both the 5A and 6A level.

And that was it. The Lakers were firmly in control from the opening minutes of the third quarter and the Irish never threatened to mount a comeback. Lake Oswego players can be forgiven for being wary to celebrate until the final minutes, even as the defense continued to hound Sheldon and the offense was putting up points in bunches. After all, Lake Oswego has held leads in state title games before. There would be no hand-wringing this time. No make it or break it conversion attempts. It almost came too easily.

And it's fitting that the Lakers' first state championship came against Sheldon, the team's most formidable postseason opponent since Lake Oswego rose to prominence.

The Irish have been responsible for causing plenty of tears on the Laker sideline over the years. But on Saturday there were possibly more tears by Lake Oswego players than there were following any of the team's playoff defeats over the years.

There was a groundswell of emotion on the field that lasted more than an hour after the final second ticked off the clock; a result of an accomplishment many decades in the making.

'To finally go out and get this one for the community and everyone who's played for the Lakers is such a great feeling. I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders this year and this is amazing,' said tight end Zach Walen.

After the game, Lake Oswego handed the trophy to assistant coach Jeff Young who continues a long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. He has been a constant source of encouragement and motivation to players and coaches over the years and the team wanted to pay him back.

'For the past 10 years Jeff and I have been very close and we've had our chances. That's really the biggest thing for me. I'm so happy we were able to get one for him,' coach Steve Coury said.

In the first half, very few people probably could have guessed that the game would ultimately end up as a laugher. For two quarters, the showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 in the state which was anticipated practically from week one of the season lived up to its billing.

Sheldon started with the ball and would go three and out to open the game. The teams would then trade turnovers with the Irish coming up with a sack of Alex Matthews on fourth down that caused a fumble at midfield.

But the Lakers would end the next Sheldon drive with an interception from Jack Anderson at the five-yard line.

Starting deep in its own territory, Lake Oswego got some quick breathing room on a 21-yard pass from Matthews to Connor Griffin.

Lake Oswego then started to pound the ball against Sheldon's defense with a steady dose of Long. Long did have a fumble on the drive following a nine-yard catch and the Lakers were lucky to maintain possession as the loose ball bounced around dangerously before ultimately going out of bounds.

Lake Oswego would cap the 14-play, 95-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run by J.B. Holmes with 52 seconds left in the opening quarter.

But Sheldon would answer quickly. The Irish converted a fourth-and-seven play and would get a four-yard touchdown run from Connor Strahm early in the second quarter to tie the game.

Both offenses were rolling in the second quarter. Lake Oswego started the next drive at its 20-yard line and got a first down reception by Anderson and a 17-yard run from Long.

A few plays later Griffin made a spectacular 32-yard catch over a defender at the five-yard line, turning in another highlight reel catch, something that has become commonplace for the junior receiver in the postseason.

Two plays later Long would score from one yard out to help the Lakers regain the lead.

Once again the Irish had an answer, going 80 yards themselves, culminating with another short scoring run by Strahm with 2:26 remaining in the half.

Sheldon would help the Lakers out as Lake Oswego tried to head into the locker room with some momentum. A pair of personal foul facemask penalties moved the Lakers into scoring range and Harrison Greenberg would drill a 35-yard field goal with 12 seconds left, putting Lake Oswego up 17-14 at the break.

'At the half we just talked about finishing and leaving no doubt. That's been our motto all year long,' lineman Turner Young said.

It didn't take long for the Lakers to seize control of the game in the third quarter. Lake Oswego started with the ball and, on the third play from scrimmage, Long broke through the defensive line, shook another tackle and got to the left sideline, going 51 yards for a touchdown.

'I felt like I'd have an opportunity to make plays against their defense and in the second half I think the offensive line just started wearing them down,' Long said.

Then, on Sheldon's next drive, Jordan Horak picked off quarterback Dillon Miller at midfield.

'In the first half I really thought we were close to breaking a few things and then it just all came together,' Coury said.

Lake Oswego wouldn't add to its lead on its next drive but the defense forced a Sheldon punt from deep in its own territory and the Lakers took over at the Irish 36-yard line.

A fantastic throw from Matthews to Stevie Coury while Matthews was being taken to the ground went for 14 yards on third down and would set up a two-yard touchdown by Long, putting Lake Oswego up 31-14 with 2:08 left in the third quarter and the Laker sideline was buzzing.

'We just wanted to keep putting the pedal to the metal and keep scoring,' Long said.

The Lakers would force another punt and then, after an illegal shift negated a big reception by Coury, Long would strike again, taking a draw on third and 10 and weaving in and out of would-be tacklers for a 50-yard scoring run that all but sealed the game.

'That's just Steven being Steven. That probably wasn't even his best game this year,' Young said.

On the first play of Sheldon's next drive, the team would muff a snap that went back to the end zone, leading to a safety.

Lake Oswego would regain possession and take more than six minutes off the clock using nothing but runs by Long and Holmes.

Holmes would ultimately get into the end zone again on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, completing the scoring for the day.

It was a stunning result as, heading into the playoffs, the Irish and Lakers were considered to be the best two teams in the state by a large margin. But Lake Oswego proved there was a significant gap between No. 1 and No. 2.

It was a perfect end to a perfect season for Lake Oswego and the Lakers will lose an exceedingly talented senior class this year. But the program has proven over the years that there isn't really such a thing as a down year for Lake Oswego football under coach Coury.

'We've had plenty of talent over the years. I'm not really sure why this year was the one where things went differently,' Coury said.

And, next fall, the Lakers will make history again when they take the field as defending state champions for the first time ever.