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LHS wins yardage battle, loses war

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lakeridge tight end Billy Mitchell eludes West Linn defender Justin Monahan after catching a pass during last Friday’s game. Mitchell caught four passes for 96 yards. He helped the Pacers rally from a two-touchdown deficit, but the Lions still squeaked out a 30-27 victory after converting a late field goal.

This one was tough to swallow. The Lakeridge football team needed a pick-me-up after its loss to Oregon City last week and was in great position to get a huge win against West Linn last Friday.

But everything went the Lions' way in the final few minutes of the game culminating in a blocked field goal on the final play of the game, which would have sent the contest into overtime.

Prior to that, the Pacers rallied valiantly from a two-touchdown deficit in the third quarter and had a go-ahead touchdown called back by a penalty.

'Our kids played their hearts out and they were disappointed not to get the win,' coach Rob Kool said.

From the middle of the third quarter until the game's final play, Lakeridge outplayed West Linn dramatically and moved the ball at will but it wasn't quite enough.

In the game, the Pacers out-gained West Linn by over 150 yards but 102 yards worth of penalties severely handicapped the visitors.

Lakeridge took a while to get rolling. After being backed up on their opening possession, the Pacers gave West Linn great early field position and the Lions capitalized with a touchdown.

Lakeridge failed to pick up a first down in the first quarter but an interception by Cam Gerson in the end zone kept West Linn from extending its lead.

Early in the second quarter, the Pacers stopped another West Linn drive and the ensuing punt was blocked with Kenny Dew, who recovered it in the end zone to tie the game.

Lakeridge picked up a first down on its next possession and, one play later, quarterback Robbie Kool cut to the sideline and out-ran West Linn's defense for a 67-yard touchdown. A poor snap cost the Pacers the extra point but the team still led 13-7.

The Pacers then stopped another West Linn drive deep in Lakeridge territory when the Lions fumbled a pitch on fourth-and-two. Lakeridge was primed to take a lead into halftime as the Lions took over at midfield with under a minute to play in the quarter.

But, with two seconds to play, the Pacers failed to cover Josh Oltman, who ran out of the backfield and caught a 41-yard touchdown pass to give West Linn a 14-13 lead at the break.

'We made some mistakes and mental errors that cost us,' coach Kool said.

Lakeridge opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out but, on its next possession, Kool threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

West Linn would score again five minutes later to take a 27-13 lead with just over four minutes to play in the third quarter.

During that drive, Erik Hillier made a tackle and remained motionless on the field for a few minutes. After a 15-minute delay, Hillier walked off under his own power and was said to have incurred a mild concussion.

However, the Pacers quickly responded with a nice drive. Billy Mitchell hauled in a 53-yard pass and, one play later, Marcel Thibodeaux scored on a 10-yard run.

Two plays into West Linn's next drive, Joe Kloucek intercepted a pass to give Lakeridge the ball at the Lions' 28-yard line.

Kloucek then pulled in a pass at the one-yard line and Thibodeaux punched in the tying score. Lakeridge forced another punt and mounted another drive.

'To come back the way we did made me very proud of our effort,' coach Kool said.

Robbie Kool picked up 37 yards on another scramble and, on the next play, Thibodeaux had a 30-yard touchdown run called back by a penalty. Two plays later, West Linn's Justin Monahan deflected a pass and intercepted it just inches off the ground.

The Lions moved the ball to midfield midway through the fourth quarter but faced a fourth-and-four and punted. However, Lakeridge was flagged for an offsides penalty on the punt, giving West Linn a first down.

The Lions then moved to the five-yard line and kicked a field goal with 2:46 to play.

But Lakeridge mounted another stellar drive in the closing minutes. The Pacers converted two fourth down plays and Mitchell hauled in another long catch to the 10-yard line with 20 seconds to play.

Lakeridge then called a running play to Thibodeaux. On the controversial play, the tailback fumbled the ball and Kool recovered it and ran out of bounds.

However, the officials huddled and ruled that Thibodeaux was down by contact. Meanwhile, 15 seconds ran off the clock and the Pacers had to spike the ball with 0.7 seconds to play.

'It was extremely confusing. Either the runner was down or we got out of bounds but don't stand there talking about it while the clock runs down. It was tough but we're not going to make excuses. Ultimately, if we hadn't made those earlier mistakes, we wouldn't have been in that position,' coach Kool said.

That set up a game-tying field goal attempt. The ball was snapped but West Linn's Josh Thurston blocked the kick, ending the game. It was Thurston's fourth blocked kick of the season.

It was a tough loss for Lakeridge to take. The team outplayed the Lions in many aspects despite still being shorthanded due to injuries. The Pacers will now take on Sprague in a non-league contest before facing Clackamas in two weeks.

'The focus now is to keep getting healthy. West Linn was probably the best team we've played so far. Hopefully we'll be able to make a run but, at this point, we know we're in a tough situation,' coach Kool said.