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Another chance to become CHAMPS!

by: VERN UYETAKE, 
Amidst hoards of celebrating teammates, Lake Oswego’s Jackson Holstein and Brian Zinsmeister embrace on the Lakers’ sideline at PGE Park moments after the game was finished. The Lakers came up with a late stop against Jesuit to come away with the 32-28 win and advance to the state championship game in Corvallis this weekend.

Maybe the third time will be the charm. Lake Oswego is headed back to the state championship game for the third time in seven years having lost in the finals in 2002 and 2004.

No matter what the outcome in Corvallis on Saturday, this has been one of the most remarkable seasons in the Lakers' history.

The year began with tempered expectations. And those expectations were bolstered with a thrilling victory on national television over previously No. 1 ranked Jesuit.

From that point on, the challenge has simply been maintaining focus. Lake Oswego wasn't challenged in a single league game and, with the exception of the first quarter against Sheldon last week, it hasn't been challenged since that win over the Crusaders.

Jesuit gave the Lakers another stiff test on Friday and Lake Oswego passed 32-28.

Given how the two games between these teams have gone this year, it's probably a safe bet to guess that the majority of the 11,000+ fans in attendance would continue doling out admission fees to watch the Lakers and Crusaders do battle every week.

'It was just another great high school football game. These are probably two of the best games I've been a part of,' Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury said.

Just like in September, Friday's game was exceptionally well-played on both sides and chock full of highlight reel feats.

But despite the dramatics, the game was actually fairly predictable. Both team's offenses were on full display. The Crusaders torched Lake Oswego with their running game, racking up 326 yards on the ground while Lake Oswego was equally successful through the air, passing for 350 yards.

And, for a while, it looked like the last team with the ball would win. Lake Oswego scored the go-ahead touchdown with 5:19 to play in the game.

On second-and-22 following a holding penalty, Jack Lomax dropped back to pass and threw a bullet that was slightly behind Will Storey.

Storey reached back with one hand, reeled the ball in, alluded a defender and then out-ran Jesuit's speedy secondary for a 65-yard score.

'It was an early throw, I just had to look back and focus real hard to pull it in,' Storey said.

It was Lake Oswego's fifth touchdown of the night compared to four scored by Jesuit.

However, following the team's second straight failed two-point conversion attempt, the Lakers only led 32-28.

It was an ominous feeling for the Lakers who have had a penchant for losing close playoff games because of failed conversion attempts.

In the semifinals in 2004, Lake Oswego scored a late touchdown against Lincoln and opted to go for two points and the win. That pass attempt failed and the Cardinals won 7-6.

Then, last year in the quarterfinals, Sheldon blocked an extra point in overtime to knock off Lake Oswego. The Irish would go on to win the state title.

'As soon as we missed one I knew we were going to be behind the eight ball a bit and chasing it,' Coury said.

Five minutes was an eternity for the high-powered Crusaders. Earlier in the season, Lake Oswego scored a late touchdown against Jesuit to take the lead only to have the Crusaders score with just over a minute to play. That set up the Lakers' last-minute drive to win.

A similar scenario was certainly on many people's minds at PGE Park.

'I was thinking it looked a lot like our last game (with Jesuit). I just didn't want them to come down and score and put it on our offense to do it again,' nose tackle Jeff Kremer said.

Jesuit started at its own 36-yard line and quickly moved down the field. The Crusaders turned once again to tailback Anthony Blake who was nearly unstoppable in the game. He ended up with 234 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

After picking up a first down, a facemask penalty moved Jesuit closer to the end zone. An 11-yard run by Dylan Jackson put the ball at the 21-yard line with just over two minutes to play.

At that point it seemed that if Jesuit was to score quickly, it would almost be an advantage to the Lakers because, the way things were going, two minutes would be plenty of time to mount a game-winning drive.

But a false start penalty and a tackle of Blake behind the line of scrimmage by Kremer made it second-and-17.

Blake was then stopped for no gain by Jackson Holstein and Cole Naone and, suddenly, Jesuit's season was on the line.

On third-and-17, Lake Oswego got pressure on Jesuit quarterback Scott Williams. The Lakers punished Jesuit all evening when it was forced into passing situations.

On the night, Williams completed just five of 19 pass attempts for 99 yards and threw an interception.

After scrambling in the pocket, Josh Kennedy came up with Lake Oswego's first sack of the night, knocking Williams down for a loss of two yards.

'It was a team effort. We knew we had to just do our job. We got some great plays,' Kremer said.

The Crusaders called time-out with 1:04 to play knowing that the game was over if they didn't come up with a first down.

Again, Lake Oswego put pressure on Williams and forced an errant pass which set off a celebration along the Lakers' sideline.

Jesuit had no time-outs left and Lomax simply took a knee twice to run out the clock.

It was an emotional semifinal to say the least. One that left players from both teams in tears afterwards. And both teams left everything on the field.

The teams were only separated by 10 yards of total offense. Lake Oswego had twice as many penalty yards while the Crusaders had a pair of turnovers to just one by the Lakers. The stats were a testament to how evenly matched these two squads really are.

But, in both meetings this year, it has been the Lakers that have made the key plays they have needed to on both sides of the ball to preserve a victory.

'Throughout the game the offense stumbled a bit and the defense let some scores in but when it was time, we stepped up and made plays to get the win,' Lomax said.

Lake Oswego got off to a very quick start in the game. The Lakers' drive stalled at midfield and Coury elected to punt on fourth-and-one.

Storey then hit a terrific punt that was downed at the one-yard line. It was the first of a handful of brilliant punts by Storey in the game as, later in the contest, he would boot another downed at the one.

Jesuit went three-and-out and the Lakers took over at the Crusades' 27-yard line.

On the first play of the drive, Storey took a hand-off and then threw downfield. The play caught Jesuit off-guard as Nick Rulli was uncovered and easily caught the pass and scored the game's first touchdown.

To go along with his punting, Storey threw a touchdown and caught a game-high nine passes for 146 yards including the game-winning touchdown. Needless to say, he was elected the player of the game for Lake Oswego.

Storey's lone mistake came later in the first quarter when he fumbled after making a catch. But it didn't hurt the Lakers as, three plays later, Kasey Closs picked off Williams.

Two plays later, Lomax scrambled out of trouble and made a terrific pass to Rulli for a 29-yard gain down to the seven-yard line.

Lomax also hurt Jesuit early with his legs as, in the first quarter, he routinely scrambled out of trouble and picked up big gains.

'I think I kind of got antsy and tried to make some plays with my feet. It was working for the most part. Then in the second half they were spying a bit and were ready for it,' Lomax said.

Three plays later, Tyson Coleman, who was battling an ankle injury, ran in from two yards out to make it a 14-0 game.

Jesuit answered quickly, making sure the game wouldn't get out of hand early. The Crusaders got a pair of big receptions and then Williams hit Keanon Lowe from 23 yards out. Lowe made a great catch in the end zone to cut the lead in half.

On that drive, Williams recorded 77 of his 99 passing yards in the game.

Following a Lake Oswego punt to the five-yard line, Blake picked up a first down and then rambled for an 83-yard touchdown run which quickly tied the game.

But Lake Oswego wouldn't trail for long. After a good kick return by Brock Pellow, the Lakers picked up a pair of first downs on the ground to reach the 30-yard line.

On the next play, Lomax fumbled the snap but recovered and threw a strike to Micah Hatfield for a touchdown.

However, the extra point attempt missed to the left, making it a 20-14 game.

Lake Oswego then came up with a stop but was forced into a three-and-out. Storey punted and James Ratliff forced a fumble on the return. Ryan Bradley recovered the ball which helped keep the Crusaders off the board before the half.

But Jesuit received the ball to start the third quarter and mounted an impressive drive.

Williams had two nice scrambles for first downs and Lowe had an 18-yard run to move the ball to the three-yard line.

Blake then scored on the next play and, after converting the extra point, Jesuit had its first lead of the game at 21-20.

Lake Oswego was quick to respond. Lomax completed back-to-back 35-yard passes to Storey and Rulli and Coleman then ran for three yards to the one-yard line.

But a false start and a sack made it third and goal from the 15-yard line.

Lomax then found Hatfield again who fought through double coverage and maintained focus on a deflected ball, hauling it in on his back in the end zone.

The two-point conversion failed making the score 26-21.

Once again, Jesuit was quick to shift the momentum in its favor.

Blake had two more big runs and score from six yards out late in the third quarter to give his team the lead again.

The Lakers were in danger of letting the game slip out of reach when they were faced with third and 13 deep in their own territory. But Rulli came up with a terrific 21-yard catch to keep the drive going.

That was followed by another first-down grab by Storey and a 19-yard run from Stowell. Still, a big sack forced Lake Oswego to punt. Storey knocked his second punt that was downed at the one-yard line.

Jesuit picked up a quick first down but couldn't sustain its drive. The Crusaders then came up with a big punt to put Lake Oswego on its 31-yard line with just under seven minutes to play.

That set up Storey's remarkable catch and run for the game's final score.

It was an emotionally and physically draining game for the Lakers. But another huge test awaits in its opponent for the state title.

'This one feels good. We have a chance to make school history. You don't get banners from winning in the semifinals. We have to come out with a good game plan and execute it,' Lomax said.

Southridge narrowly lost to Jesuit in the regular season and, in the playoffs it has done nothing but humiliate opponents scoring no less than 44 points in any game with its lowest margin of victory being its 30-point shellacking of Beaverton in the semifinals.