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Oh, so close

The Lakers struggle to get out of their own way against Southridge in the state title game and fail to come up with fourth-quarter magic in a disappointing 35-21 loss to end a terrific year.
by: VERN UYETAKE, 
Brad Halberg, Tyson Coleman and Jack Lomax console each other in the closing moments of the state championship game.

At some point you have to wonder if someone broke a mirror before Lake Oswego's 2002 loss in the state championship game to Sheldon because no other team in Oregon has experienced as much bad fortune in the playoffs in recent years than the Lakers.

But, if that's the case, the silver lining would have to be that broken mirrors are only supposed to bring seven years of bad luck. Perhaps its unfair to say that Lake Oswego's football team has been 'unlucky' in the new millennium. After all, the Lakers have been to the finals three times and the semifinals six times since 2000 while establishing themselves as one of the top programs in the state.

Yet that final step of winning a championship remains exceedingly difficult to take.

And if this season truly did mark the final one in a truly astounding string of gut-wrenching playoff demises, it might be placed near the top of the list in terms of how difficult it is to deal with.

There was no single stomach punch to send the Lakers reeling. No blocked extra point or dropped two-point conversion attempt.

Instead there was simply three quarters of Lake Oswego looking like a completely different team than it did in 12 previous contests.

Instead of that quick, unexpected turn that ended the team's season there was two hours of head shaking and shocked expressions on the sidelines that seemed to say 'is this really happening again?'

And yet, despite every uncharacteristic mistake, the strange turnovers and what seemed like 10 miles worth of penalties, there was hope practically until the final snap.

And not just hope… confidence. With just over five minutes to play in the game the Lakers had the ball at midfield trailing by six points. Watching Lake Oswego's student section and its sideline, one could easily assume that the Lakers were holding a three-score lead with that amount of time left.

Laker fans knew this story. Whether it was going to be a leaping catch by Micah Hatfield, a mad dash along the sideline by Nick Rulli or a bruising run after catch by Will Storey, the end result would be the same, a Lake Oswego touchdown with only seconds to spare, a 28-27 victory and a coronation.

It seemed inevitable. The Lakers had weathered the storm and finally righted the ship.

But when a fourth down pass glanced off the fingertips of Storey, Lake Oswego's most reliable big-play receiver, and fell to the turf, there were audible gasps from practically everywhere.

That wasn't part of the script.

Through the first quarter, Lake Oswego's storybook season was on pace to end predictably. But then, as is the case in so many great stories, there was a twist. Still, the Lakers figured they knew the ending.

But they didn't and it was that shock that led to so many tears moments after the game.

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Lake Oswego was dominating the game through its first 15 minutes. Following a three-and-out on its opening drive, the Lakers came up with a quick stop but were then pinned back on their own two-yard line.

Jack Lomax then hit Storey on a pair of first-down catches and found Hatfield for another 20-yard gain. Lomax also hit Kasey Closs and Brad Halberg to move his team into the red zone as the Lakers all but abandoned the running game from the opening snap.

In previous games Lake Oswego has mixed in the run with varying degrees of success and, in some cases, it seemed to serve only as a means of giving Lomax's arm a brief respite instead of an attempt to establish a balanced attack.

Against Southridge the strategy seemed to be 'Who are we kidding? Why mess with what works?' Lake Oswego ran the ball just 15 times and nine of those carries came from Lomax.

Just over two minutes into the game, Lomax hit Hatfield in the end zone for an 11-yard score and Colby Reis's kick glanced off the inside of the upright to make it a 7-0 game.

Lake Oswego then forced another three-and-out when Brian Zinsmeister made a nice tackle on third down.

The Lakers got the ball back at the 30-yard line. Lomax scrambled for a first down and then threw first down passes to Halberg and Closs.

Following a 15-yard blocking penalty on Lake Oswego, the team found itself faced with fourth-and-six from the 15-yard line.

Once again Lomax found room in the open field. He picked up the first down and then ran down the right sideline into the end zone to give his team a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.

'We got some stops and came out hot on offense but then things slowed down a little,' lineman Blake Heim said.

The Skyhawks continued to spin their wheels on offense, going three and out once again as the Lakers only yielded one first down through the first quarter and a half.

But the game changed dramatically just a few minutes later.

On second-and-15, Lomax threw just his sixth interception of the season and Southridge's D'Cota Fry ran it back to the one-yard line. One play later, Matt Tanuvasa punched the ball in and, despite the Skyhawks' inability to figured out Lake Oswego's defense, they were back in the game.

A holding penalty and a sack thwarted the Lakers' next drive and Southridge finally started to move the ball slightly before a fumble was recovered by Rulli.

Once again, a holding penalty and a false start from the Lakers put the team in a bind. Following a fumble that Lomax was able to recover for a three-yard loss, the quarterback hit Closs again on the left sideline but the ball was fumbled after he made a nice move to pick up additional yardage.

Replays showed that the Southridge player who recovered the ball stepped out of bounds prior to picking it up which would have negated the turnover, but it was a difficult call for officials to see.

'Give (Southridge) credit. They forced those turnovers and played tough,' coach Steve Coury said.

Two plays later, Southridge tailback Kirk Werhane broke a handful of tackles for a 22-yard scoring run. The extra point try missed to the right but suddenly, despite the statistics still showing the Lakers dominating the game, the Skyhawks had all the momentum.

Lake Oswego quickly moved back into Southridge territory on its next drive as it sought to regain control of the contest.

But, on another scramble by Lomax, the ball was knocked loose and recovered by the Skyhawks.

Southridge then started its only substantial drive of the half, picking up a pair of first downs before Kellen Mastrud found Kalen Powell in the end zone for a 32-yard score with just nine seconds to play before the half.

It seemed unfathomable that the Lakers could be trailing by a touchdown heading into the locker room and the team was hardly worried.

Southridge started the second half with renewed confidence. Instead of coming up with another three-and-out and quickly regaining the lead like the Lakers hoped would happen, Southridge started with its longest pass play of the game from Mastrud to Alex Hyde for 29 yards.

Two plays later, Masturd found Mitch Mathews for 27 yards and, following a pass interference penalty on the Lakers, Werhane scored his second touchdown of the game on a three-yard run to make it 27-14.

And Lake Oswego started on offense with a telling play, a first-down catch by Storey that was called back by a holding penalty.

Even with a 17-yard catch by Rulli, the Lakers were faced with fourth-and-three and punted.

Lake Oswego came up with a stop defensively thanks to a big tackle by Heim on third down and, after a nice punt, the Lakers started another drive on their own six-yard line.

Lake Oswego quickly moved out of trouble when Lomax found Storey again for a 20-yard reception. Storey would catch five passes on the drive, including a terrific reception in traffic on fourth-and-one.

That would set up a 17-yard reception in the end zone by Micah Hatfield that put the Lakers back in the game with just five seconds to play in the third quarter. It was Lake Oswego's second 90-plus-yard drive of the game.

The Lakers then proceeded to force yet another three-and-out and took over at midfield thanks to a facemask penalty on Southridge.

Storey caught two more passes for a first down before another 15-yard blocking penalty against the Lakers crippled their drive.

'It was the dumb penalties that got to us,' Heim said.

Lake Oswego eventually was faced with fourth-and-eight from the 35-yard line. Lomax threw deep on the play and it was intercepted by Kyle Rose at the 12-yard line.

It was just the first time all year that Lomax had been intercepted twice in a game but the pick actually did Lake Oswego a favor as it saved the Lakers 23 yards of field position.

Southridge then ran the ball twice to set up third-and-three. Mastrud went back to pass on the next play but Zinsmeister came from the corner and made a leaping sack for a 10-yard loss.

After yet another Southridge punt, Lake Oswego had the ball again at midfield trailing by six points.

'We felt good until the end. We knew we'd get the ball back and have a chance to score,' Coury said.

But, before a potential game-winning drive could even begin, a false start pushed the Lakers back. Rulli made a 10-yard catch on second down but the next two passes fell incomplete, including the fourth-and-five attempt that was just out of Storey's reach.

Southridge took over at its own 44-yard line with 4:42 to play and the Lakers still had all three time-outs in the half.

The Skyhawks then gave Lake Oswego a steady diet of Werhane.

The tailback ran the ball five straight times and picked up two crucial first downs to bleed the clock.

Lake Oswego was forced to burn its time-outs and forced a third-and-five for Southridge.

Instead of keeping the ball on the ground and pinning the Lakers deep in their own territory with under a minute to play, the Skyhawks attempted a risky pass and Mathews made a terrific 24-yard catch for a back-breaking first down at the four-yard line.

Two plays later Southridge punched the ball in for a score with 40 seconds to play in the game and, as insult to injury, a bad snap on the extra point try ended up leading to a two-point conversion pass that made the score 35-21.

The majority of the Lakers were inconsolable following the team's first and only loss of the season.

Lake Oswego went from being unsure of exactly what it had in late August and rose to the consensus No. 1 team in the state quickly on a dominating 12-game run that took the team to Reser Stadium.

'I feel bad for the kids. We've been there so many times now and we were really close but it's the journey you remember and that was awesome. In the end there's only one team in the whole state that's happy,' Coury said.

The Lakers graduate a handful of extremely talented athletes including Division-I committed players Lomax and Hatfield but, as has been the case for nearly a decade, they appear primed and ready to reload in 2009 with the return of Storey, tailback Tyson Coleman and a handful of talented and experienced linemen on a squad that could very well be a contender once again.