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Loss shouldnt dampen Lakers broader legacy

Last Saturday's contest was the fourth state championship football game I have covered in nine years with the Review. In that time I have watched Lake Oswego play in six semifinal games as well and I have seen the team battle this state and other states' powerhouses in the regular season dozens of times.

Each team had its own identity and some were wildly different from year to year. That's part of the beauty of high school sports. Unlike the pros, you don't have the luxury of building up your dynasty by retaining your superstars for the better part of a decade.

And unlike the college game, you can't replenish your program by pulling in top players from around the nation. Sure, let's be honest, the state's top teams have the benefit of attracting a high-profile transfer from time to time but, for a public school to piece together a true dynasty, the talent must be predominantly home grown.

Year after year, the Lakers have fielded one of the state's top teams and they've done it in nearly every way imaginable. They've featured power running teams, option quarterbacks, record-breaking passing performances and bone-crushing defenses.

Last year, Lake Oswego garnered its first state championship in football after years of near misses and heartbreak. And, after the dust had settled, I remember thinking “what made this year different? What was different about this team?”

And the answer? Nothing really. It was simply another incredibly talented team, one of the best in the state, that happened to play a little better than the competition on a few crucial Fridays and Saturdays.

That isn't meant to trivialize anything that last year's team accomplished. Far from it. That team was one in a string of teams over the past 10 years that, heading into the season, had a legitimate chance to win the state championship. And to me, that's what's remarkable.

I headed into this year wondering what Lake Oswego would do for an encore. The preseason polls had Lake Oswego ranked on the outskirts of the top-five. After all, the Lakers had lost big-name playmakers like quarterback Alex Matthews, receiver Stevie Coury and tailback Steven Long. But, after getting off the phone with coach Steve Coury as I prepared to write the annual preview story, I wondered how it was that the Lakers weren't predominant favorites to repeat.

Lake Oswego certainly had some skill positions to fill but the team was returning nearly its entire offensive line as well as nearly all of its biggest playmakers on defense.

Then, after I saw the team play for the first time this season, my suspicious were confirmed. Lake Oswego was ridiculously good.

It became evident very quickly that the team's defense was the best I'd seen in nearly 10 years of covering the team and was almost certainly the best defensive group from top to bottom that the program has ever had.

The Lakers easily outplayed Central Catholic at home, one of the preseason favorites to win the state title. Lake Oswego then knocked off Southridge 28-21 in a game where coach Coury didn't feel like his team was particularly sharp. The Skyhawks would go on to win the Metro League.

As the season progressed and the team was picking up lopsided win after lopsided win in the TRL, I became certain that I was watching the best Lake Oswego football team that I have witnessed.

The team could hurt you in so many different ways, whether it was pounding the ball steadily and surely with J.B. Holmes, Spencer Anderson and Nick Underwood, or going over the top with consistent quarterback Justen Ruppe slinging balls to tight end Mitch Lomax or electrifying receiver Connor Griffin.

Ruppe could also make plays with his feet, as could Jack Anderson who took his game to another level this season. Anderson, who had already made a name for himself as a ballhawk in the secondary and a possession receiver on offense, was so dynamic that the team had to find more ways to get him the ball and implemented a wildcat package with him taking snaps, giving the team another highly effective wrinkle.

And, all along, the rock of the team remained its defense which didn't allow more than 21 points in a single game all year.

On Saturday, the Lakers lost for the first time this year and, in fact, for the first time since the 2010 semifinals. And yet I still hold on to the assertion that this year's team was the best I've watched.

It's entirely subjective of course. If the 2011 Lakers squared off against the 2012 Lakers, who knows what the result would be?

But this year's squad had virtually no holes. It didn't nearly everything well and executed in a way that I've never seen before.

Saturday's 13-6 loss doesn't change that. Games like that happen. A loss in the 14th game of the season does little to change this team's legacy, at least in my mind.

Much of the talk from the Lake Oswego players this year revolved around leaving the past behind and allowing this group to make its own history. The 2012 Lakers did that, becoming another chapter in the growing story of this program's success.

The 2013 Lakers will, once again, look significantly different with even more holes to replace. But it would probably be a foolish decision to bet against them in the fall.




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