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Bizarre finish doesnt negate a stellar season

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In nearly six years at the Review and West Linn Tidings, I have covered my fair share of difficult losses. There have been plenty of defeats in state championship games and heart-breaking early round playoff decisions.

I have seen teams I cover falter due to a last-second miracle from their opponents, I have seen teams lose because of poor officiating and I have seen teams lose because they were either simply outplayed or, frankly, choked.

But I can't recall ever witnessing a game quite like Saturday's 6A state championship.

Days later it's still difficult to wrap my head around what exactly happened at Reser Stadium and how.

I suppose the best thing to do is to start with what I know.

I know that Lake Oswego was the better overall football team on the field. After watching the Lakers beat Jesuit twice this season I still wasn't convinced that there was much separation between those two squads. But between Lake Oswego and Southridge? I have no doubt.

On a neutral field, the Lakers would beat the Skyhawks four times out of five. Unfortunately for Lake Oswego, football isn't decided by a best-of-five series.

And so, in Corvallis on Saturday, Southridge capitalized on Laker miscues and walked off the field with its first state title.

Lake Oswego turned the ball over four times in the first half, leading to three Southridge touchdowns and was penalized a total of 15 times for 144 yards. It was a nightmarish game for the Lakers as, for much of the night, the team on the field looked nothing like the team from the previous 12 games.

And yet, you can't say that this was simply a case of Lake Oswego overlooking an opponent or letting its nerves get to it in a big game. Far from it.

The Lakers were more than ready for Southridge.

They had the team scouted well and in pre-game warm-ups and in the locker room before taking the field, the team displayed a healthy combination of intensity, confidence and levity.

Lake Oswego controlled the opening quarter and a half and putting it that way is probably a significant understatement.

Southridge only mustered one first down while the Lakers marched down the field twice to take a 14-0 lead. By all appearances, they were a focused team on a mission.

And the turnovers? The two fumbles were flukey. Good tackles by the Skyhawks and good concentration to fall on the loose balls. Lomax's second interception actually helped Lake Oswego since, had the player simply batted the ball down, he would have saved his team over 20 yards of field position.

The penalties? The bulk of the infractions were for holding which is always a judgment call.

Some were probably more debatable than others but when asked about them after the game coach Coury took the high road.

'It was frustrating but I'd really have to look on film to make any judgments,' the coach said.

And yet, despite at least tripling the number of mistakes the team normally makes in a given game, it was still in prime position to come away with a win in the fourth quarter.

It would be one thing if the Lakers made those errors and Southridge responded by mopping the floor with them en route to a four-touchdown victory.

It would be more explainable at least and perhaps even more palatable.

But when you lose in that manner with the knowledge that possibly one fewer misstep was the difference between winning or losing well… the players' emotions spoke for themselves.

I have seen plenty of tears from athletes over the years. But the grief on the Laker sideline after Saturday's game tops them all.

Players bawled and hugged friends, teammates and family members for minutes. Some simply couldn't stop crying.

And when the Southridge student body rushed the field after the trophy presentations and tossed verbal taunts at the Lake Oswego huddle in an embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship, the Lakers weren't fazed because there really wasn't much more salt that could have been rubbed in their wound at that point.

Ultimately, the 2008 football season should be remembered as being enormously successful for the Lakers.

In August all that Coury knew was that he had three returning starters, one of whom was probably going to turn in a pretty solid season at quarterback.

What he ended up getting was one of the most talented and entertaining teams in school history.

There is not a public school in the state whose football team is in better shape than Lake Oswego's.

Given the youth program and the commitment to excellence, there will be far more opportunities to pick up that elusive first state title and another strong opportunity will likely start as early as next fall.

But, particularly for the team's seniors, that won't make last Saturday any easier.