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27 years in the making

by: VERN UYETAKE, 
Chase Wippert hauls in the first ever touchdown scored on Lakeridge High School’s home field late in the second quarter of last Friday’s game against McNary. The catch broke a four-game scoreless streak for the Pacers in front of an estimated audience of around 2,500 people.

Looking simply at the X's and O's of last Friday's Lakeridge football game against McNary, it's easy to point out that a lot of things went wrong for the Pacers.

Ultimately, however, none of those things will be remembered by the Lakeridge players and coaches or by the hundreds of fans and community members in attendance.

The two things that will probably be remembered most are the sight of the Pacers sprinting under an archway of golden balloons onto their own field for the first time in school history.

'Taking the field at the beginning of the game and the kids on the field singing the fight song at the end, that was awesome,' coach Ian Lamont said.

The second will probably be Chase Wippert's diving touchdown catch late in the second quarter, the first points scored on Lakeridge's field. That catch set off an exuberant celebration on the sideline and in the packed stands at Lakeridge High School.

Never has such a meaningless touchdown meant so much. Wippert's catch came with Lakeridge already trailing 33-0 in an eventual 54-7 loss and it was just the Pacers' second touchdown of the year.

But, judging by the reaction, it may have meant more than winning a playoff game.

As has been the case for a number of Lakeridge games this year, the Pacers held their own into the second quarter before things fell apart quickly.

A pair of fumbled snaps by McNary stopped its first drive before a blocked punt set the Celtics up late in the first quarter.

Three runs by fullback Darian Kauffman got McNary in the end zone.

'We were pumped up and doing alright until that punt changed the game,' Wippert said.

The Pacers picked up a first down on a scramble by quarterback Ben Swinford before being forced to punt and then pinned McNary deep in its own territory.

A holding penalty pushed the Celtics back further and eventually McNary was faced with a third-and-three with nine minute to play in the half.

A stop would likely give the Pacers good field position and, with some luck, the team may have been able to play keep-away for the remainder of the half.

But an offsides penalty gave McNary the first down and, two plays later, quarterback Grant Kessel threw a perfect pass to Sheldon Austria that went for a 75-yard touchdown.

That sequence started a domino effect. On the first play of Lakeridge's next drive, Kirt McCallister intercepted a tipped pass and ran it back for a touchdown.

Then, after a 20-yard run by Wippert and a 14-yard catch from Swinford to Conner Young, a fumble gave the ball back to McNary and the Celtics converted it into a touchdown three players later.

And, after a Lakeridge three-and-out, Kessel scored on a 36-yard scramble.

'I think mentally this team can tire and those mistakes come back and bite us,' Lamont said.

Suddenly, in a five minute period, the Celtics had put up four touchdowns.

But the Pacers weren't about to hang their heads. Instead, they mounted their best drive of the season.

Starting at their own 17-yard line, the Pacers started to move the ball downfield quickly.

Daniel Chesney made a catch for a first down and a facemask penalty put the Pacers into McNary territory.

Wippert then caught a pair of first down passes and Chesney caught another to get the Pacers inside the red zone.

With 32 seconds to play in the half, Wippert caught a well-thrown ball in the end zone to put his team on the board.

'We were moving the ball I ran a post corner and got open. It was a great pass,' Wippert said.

The cheers were still emanating from the Lakeridge stands as the Pacers kicked off and Austria ran the ball all the way back for another McNary score, making it 40-7 at the break.

Lakeridge never got into much of a groove on offense in the second half.

McNary scored on its first possession and the Pacers had a pair of kicks that glanced off of them and were recovered by the Celtics which left Lakeridge without many opportunities to score again.

The Celtics scored their final touchdown with just over a minute to play in the game and, moments later, the Lakeridge student body swarmed the field to support its team.