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Lakers take to the road for difficult second-round game

by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego quarterback Jack Lomax has seemingly gotten better with each week of the season. That should bode well for the Lakers, who will depend on a balanced offense to get past ninth-ranked Canby on Friday.

The Lake Oswego football team is ranked No. 1 in the state and hasn't lost a game since last December. But the Lakers' reward for being so good is a second-round trip this Friday to face a Canby team that is good enough to end Lake Oswego's season.

It hardly seems fair that the Lakers and the ninth-ranked Cougars would have to meet this early in the postseason. And no one seems to understand why the top-ranked team would have to play a road game during the early stages of the playoffs.

'It's too bad, because the ultimate goal would be to get the best teams in the last eight or the last four (spots in the playoffs),' Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury said as his team prepared for it's second-round game. 'The biggest travesty of this thing is having to travel.'

Coury believes the top-ranked team should have a home-field advantage until games shift to neutral sites for the semifinals. Plus, he believes teams should be seeded for the playoffs, which would guarantee the best possible matchups in the final rounds.

'But it is what it is,' Coury said. '… So we're going to go over (to Canby) and play. We're going to show up and play as well as we can.'

As one might have guessed, the Lake Oswego coach is worried about his second-round opponent. The pollsters claim Canby is the ninth best team in the state, but Coury believes the Cougars are better than that, especially after they beat No. 6 Jesuit on the road last Friday.

'We've seen a lot of (the teams) that are left … And I guarantee you that Canby is one of the top four teams (remaining),' Coury said.

Now, Coury might have all of his team's fans worried as well. But he knows it won't be easy traveling into hostile territory and beating a team that is on a roll.

'It's going to be a great experience for our kids,' Coury said. 'That's such a great place to go play, because they've got a great tradition and there will be a packed house. That's what football is all about. It's going to be fun.'

Against Jesuit, the Cougars benefited from a number of big plays, especially from Laurence Calcagno, who rushed for 107 yards and recovered two fumbles, and from T.J. Gorman, who had 186 combined yards and scored three touchdowns.

But the Lakers have their share of big-time players as well.

In last Friday's easy 51-9 first-round victory over Gresham, Zach Young rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns. That pushed his season totals to 1,895 yards and 30 touchdowns.

'He's just a great running back,' Coury said. 'As long as we're still in it, he's going to have big games.'

That would seem like an invitation for Canby to stack extra defenders inside the tackle-to-tackle box in an effort to at least minimize Young's effectiveness. By doing so, though, the Cougars would make themselves vulnerable to Lake Oswego's passing game, which is getting stronger by the week.

Against Gresham, quarterback Jack Lomax didn't need to throw very often, but when he did he was deadly accurate. He completed six of nine attempts for 99 yards and, most importantly, three touchdowns.

'We're throwing the ball very effectively. The quarterback is not making mistakes and we've got all kinds of receivers that are making plays. It's really a very versatile offense,' Coury said proudly.

In previous seasons, the Lakers tended to turn conservative in the playoffs, relying almost solely on the run to win games. It wasn't a bad strategy, considering all of the quality running backs Lake Oswego has suited down in recent years.

But it's also a good idea not to become too predictable. The Lakers probably won't have to worry about that problem this year, however.

'We're a little more balanced than we've been in the past,' Coury said. 'I think the offensive line is excellent and you add great players behind them (like Young and Lomax) and it's a great combination.

'I'm very comfortable with whatever the game turns into,' Coury added. 'If we need to throw the ball, then that's what we'll do. And I'm very confident in it. And, if we need to turn around and hand it to Zach (Young), I know we're very good at that too.'

In addition, the Lakers have an outstanding receiving corps, which has been largely overlooked by most of the state's media.

The Lakers are so deep at that position that they seldom throw to anyone more than three times in a game. In fact, no one caught that many passes in the Gresham game. But, there were three receivers - Nick Rulli, Anthony Culver and Steve Eisenhauer - who each turned a lone reception into a touchdown.

The Lakers also picked up a touchdown from backup quarterback Jared Van Hoon and Culver returned an interception for a TD. Plus, Pat Barry kicked a field goal and tacked on six extra points.

In the end, Gresham, which was the No. 5 seed from the Mt. Hood Conference, was simply no match for the Lakers.

'We were just a better team … plain and simple,' Coury said. 'It was a matter of (Gresham) being over-matched. That's no slight on them. It's just the way it was.'

In one week's time, the Lakers will go from playing an easy opponent to matching up against a foe that is capable of making a long run through the playoffs. It's a shame that someone has to lose Friday's game.

'These are two of the top teams in the state and one of them is going to be at home, watching other teams play for the next few weeks,' Coury said.

'Hopefully that isn't us.'