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Pacers slop way to muddy gridiron win

For the Lakeridge football team, it's been a season that has taken a turn for the worst at every opportunity. But things were on the verge of reaching the catastrophic stage last Friday when the Pacers nearly blew a 21-point lead before beating Putnam 21-14.

The game was played in absolutely horrible conditions on Putnam's home field. That field used to be covered with grass, but on Friday it was covered with ankle-deep mud.

Add in a liberal dose of rain and even some hail, and the field looked like it was better suited for a mud wrestling event rather than a football game. That didn't bode well for the Pacers, who like to throw the ball.

Lakeridge actually tried to throw the ball for a while, and then eventually just gave up. As a result, Lakeridge quarterback Robbie Kool completed just 1 of 9 passes for nine yards. He also had an interception.

'With the weather, we probably should have just run it,' Lakeridge coach Rob Kool said. 'It was hard to do a lot of things.'

Fortunately, the Pacers also have a strong running game. And the Kingsmen haven't shown this year that they stop an opponent on the ground. So, Robbie Kool, the coach's son, and running back Tyrell Fortune both had stellar games running the ball.

The quarterback rushed for 102 yards on 11 carries and had a touchdown. Fortune picked up 157 yards on 25 attempts. He also had a pair of touchdown runs. They accomplished that even though Putnam knew what to expect.

'When you end up stacking everybody in the box (on defense), it winds up being a slug fest,' coach Kool said.

The Pacers got all of their points in the first half. The scoring started with a 10-yard run by Robbie Kool in the first quarter. Then, Fortune added his own 10-yard scoring run later in that period. And Fortune's one-yard scoring plunge in the second quarter made it 21-0.

At that point, it looked like Lakeridge might win in a blowout, especially since the Kingsmen seemed destined to finish the game with less than 100 total yards.

Somehow, the game almost got away from the Pacers in the third quarter. The Kingsmen finally got on the board in that period when Max Hoffman ran for a two-yard touchdown.

Not long after that, Lakeridge fumbled the ball away on a play that many people thought had been blown dead. But, instead of heading back to the huddle, the Pacers had to give chase to Putnam's Jordan Salazar, who picked up the fumble and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.

'All of a sudden, the game went from 21-0 to 21-14,' coach Kool said in disbelief. 'The game got a heck of a lot tighter than it should have been.'

After that, Lakeridge turned the game over to its defense, which shut Putnam down the rest of the way. For the game, the Kingsmen managed just 109 yards in total offense. Lakeridge had 264 total yards.

Most importantly, Lakeridge picked up the victory. It was the Pacers' first official win of the year after a season-opening victory over North Medford was forfeited for the use of an ineligible player.

That player, 6-foot-5, 327-pound William Hodgman, was expected to be the anchor of Lakeridge's line this year. But he had to sit out part of the year while the OSAA was determining if he was eligible after transferring from Utah. Then, after returning to the lineup, Hodgman dislocated an elbow during warm-ups for the Clackamas game and was lost for the rest of the season.

'We had William for about 2½ games this season,' coach Kool lamented.

The Pacers also have had to deal with the heartbreak of tough losses to West Linn and Clackamas - games in which Lakeridge had late, go-ahead touchdowns called back on penalties.

'It's just been one of those seasons,' coach Kool said. 'We wish we could play the season over.'

The Pacers now have just two games remaining on their schedule - including this week at Milwaukie and next Friday against Lake Oswego. Even if the Pacers win both of those games, they would still need a lot of help to make the playoffs.

It was a season that held great expectations, but it's turned into a hugely frustrating year instead.

'There's been so many things that have gone wrong,' coach Kool said. 'But you've got to hold your head high … If I dwelled on all of the negative things, I might shoot myself.'