by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego tight end Michael Wesner made a sensational catch in the back of the end zone during the second quarter of last Friday’s playoff game against Canby. But the touchdown was nullified because of a holding penalty against the Lakers. It hardly mattered, though, because the Lakers scored five plays later en route to a 28-14 victory.

It only seems fitting that Lake Oswego and Sheldon should square off this week in the quarterfinals of the 6A state football playoffs.

Friday's 7 p.m. game at LO District Stadium will mark the fourth time in six years that the Lakers and the Irish have met each other in the playoffs.

The run started in 2002 when the two teams met in the championship game, which the Irish won. The following year, they met in the second round at Sheldon and the Lakers won the game in a blowout.

The next year, it was the same round, the same place, but the game went down to the wire before Lake Oswego squeaked out a thrilling victory. The two teams somehow managed to evade each other during the 2005 and '06 playoff campaigns. But now they're back at it again with the two teams meeting on Lake Oswego's home field for the first time.

From the Lakers' point of view, it's a good thing they have the home-field advantage, because Sheldon won't be an easy team to beat. Last week, Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury was worried about playing a Canby team that he believed was one of the top four squads in the state. But No. 3 Sheldon might be even better.

'They're very well coached, as always. Plus, their quarterback (Jordan Johnson) is a very good runner and their running back (Zach Todd) is excellent…. So they want to run first and throw second, which is a reversal of the other three times we played them,' Coury said.

During the regular season, Todd rushed for nearly 1,300 yards while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Johnson tacked on another 527 yards on the ground. Plus, he completed 75 percent of his passes while averaging 10 yards per attempt.

There's no question that the Lake Oswego defense will have its hands full trying to cover all of Sheldon's weapons.

'Their (quarterback and running back) will make you miss (tackles). They're very elusive kids and we've got to be able to break them down and make tackles,' Coury said.

'(The Irish) are good enough to win the whole thing, just like we are,' the LO coach added. 'So, I think it's two of the top four teams, maybe even the top two.'

According to the last regular-season poll conducted by the Associated Press, the Lakers have the best team in the state. People outside of Lake Oswego might want to debate that claim, but the Lakers (11-0) have beaten everyone that has appeared on their schedule so far.

'I think our kids are confident and I think it's going to take a good effort to beat us,' Coury said.

Plus, 'we're not beating ourselves … I tell the kids all the time, 'You're hard to beat, it doesn't matter who you're playing, if you're not beating yourself,' ' the coach added.

Not only are the Lakers avoiding mistakes, but they've been able to do whatever they wanted to do offensively, both during the regular season and in the playoffs. As a result, senior running back Zach Young has enjoyed a banner year with 2,056 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns. And quarterback Jack Lomax has completed approximately two-thirds of his passes while spreading the wealth among a number of capable receivers.

This season's playoff run marks the first significant postseason action for most of Lake Oswego's key contributors. But the Lakers always seem to advance this far in the playoffs, no matter who's on the roster.

In fact, Friday's game will mark Lake Oswego's seventh consecutive appearance in the quarterfinals. No other 6A team in the state has experienced that kind of success during the current decade. It seems Coury and his coaching staff have discovered a formula that keeps LO winning.

'I think it's a lot of things,' Coury said. 'It's an accumulation of all the hard work. And these kids buy into what we're doing. Plus, we have a philosophy to be playing our best ball by the time we get to the playoffs.'

Plus, the coaches have a knack for uncovering new talent, often during the midst of the season.

'There's four or five big-time contributors that started out the season on the JV team,' Coury said.

Guys like receiver Nick Rulli, fullback Will Storey, linebacker Jackson Holstein, linebacker Scott Johnson, nose guard Jeff Kremer - all of whom were unheralded players at the beginning of the season - are now starting or making major contributions for the Lakers.

And no one seems to give Coury's assistant coaches enough credit. Many of them could be head coaches somewhere else, or they could be assistants at the college level, but they've all chosen to stay at Lake Oswego.

'You won't find any better coaches,' Coury said. 'When this time of the year rolls around, our kids are well-trained and playing really well. So that's a credit to the coaches.'

Certainly, the Lakers have all of the ingredients to justify their No. 1 ranking, and they would like nothing more than to win the school's first-ever state football championship, but they can't look past the Irish.

'I don't think this group, at all, is looking beyond (Sheldon),' Coury said. 'The state championship is definitely the goal. That's where they want to be, but they have to take it one at a time.

'They talk about this being the championship game, just like last week was. Because, if you lose, you're out. So this is as big as the championship game.'

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