Lake Oswego nearly topples the top-ranked team in the state

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN - Craig Hodges uses a stiff-arm as he's forced out of bounds after a run during last week's game at Jesuit. Hodges had two of Lake Oswego's three touchdowns in the game. Some old demons cropped up again for the Lake Oswego football team on Friday as the Lakers saw their season end 21-19 against No. 1 Jesuit in the second round of the playoffs.

For the second time this season, Lake Oswego hung with the powerful Crusaders on the road, playing them evenly this time around. The teams each reached the end zone three times, but a missed extra point and a failed two-point conversion late in the contest did the Lakers in.

It marks the fourth time in the playoffs since 2005 that a missed PAT or failed two-point conversion attempt has been the difference in a season-ending game for the Lakers.

“I'm proud of our kids. I think the game went like a lot of our games this year where we went toe to toe against a really good team and just made enough mistakes that you can't do,” coach Steve Coury said.

Lake Oswego's rugged preseason schedule, which included a season-opening loss to Jesuit, made the Lakers battle-tested and anything but intimidated by the top-ranked Crusaders.

Jesuit is also not at full-strength, missing one of the state's top rushers in Joey Alfieri, out with an injured knee.

Lake Oswego jumped on the Crusaders early and came up with a dramatic late rally but ultimately came up just inches short.

The Lakers jumped on Jesuit early when Max Mattern picked off the Crusaders' first pass attempt of the game.

After a first-down catch by Nick Underwood, Craig Hodges broke an impressive 20-yard scoring run to give the Lakers the lead.

Jesuit moved the ball on its next drive but had a pair of deep touchdown passes called back because of an ineligible man downfield.

The Crusaders would punt and pin the Lakers back on their own one-yard line.

Lake Oswego picked up a first down but a short punt gave the Crusaders the ball on Lake Oswego's 29-yard line. Five plays later, Jesuit would score on a short run to tie the game early in the second quarter.

Lake Oswego would struggle to move the ball for the remainder of the first half but the defense did well in not allowing Jesuit's powerful running game to break any big plays and the contest remained tied at the half.

“We did a nice job wrapping up and we moved guys around to get our best personnel on the field,” Coury said.

The Lakers started the second half with the ball and got a 27-yard pass from Mitch Verburg to Underwood and then a 31-yard pass from Verburg to Yong Kim at the one-yard line, setting up a short plunge by Hodges. The Lakers would miss the extra point but still led 13-7.

Jesuit didn't take long to respond, picking up some big chunks of yardage on the ground and converting on fourth-and-one to set up a touchdown.

Jesuit grabbed its first lead of the game at 14-13 with 3:46 left in the third quarter.

Lake Oswego was intercepted on its next possession and Jesuit then started to exert its will. After a 22-yard catch on third-and-five, Jesuit ran the ball 10 straight times and would score with 7:07 left in the game to make it 21-13.

The Lakers started their next drive on their own 11-yard line but a 39-yard catch by Jordan Horak moved the team into Jesuit territory.

A pass interference call on the Crusaders helped the Lakers convert on fourth down but then a backwards pass went for a loss of eight yards.

On fourth-and-18, Verburg went to his go-to receiver in Horak, who hauled the ball in over a defender to a score with 3:43 remaining in the game.

However, Jesuit stuffed the Lakers' conversion attempt and then recovered an onside kick attempt.

“It was a play that we'd been working on and, credit to Jesuit, they did a great job defending it,” Coury said.

The Crusaders would help Lake Oswego out by throwing an incomplete pass on their next drive and were forced to punt. However, the Lakers muffed the punt and Jesuit recovered.

The Lakers would get the ball back on their own six-yard line with just 15 seconds remaining and a desperation pass was picked off to seal the game.

It was a disappointing finish for Lake Oswego which, despite finishing fourth in the Three Rivers League, proved it was still a force in the state in nearly toppling the Crusaders.

“The wins and losses weren't where they could have been this year. We lost on the last play to Lakeridge, on a kickoff return to Oregon City and on a big run to West Linn but we competed with everyone. Without getting the win, this was really a great way to end the season,” Coury said.

The loss snaps a remarkable streak of 13 consecutive years that the program had reached at least the quarterfinals.

Lake Oswego will lose some key players to graduation again this year but will return Verburg along with a solid group of tailbacks and skill players as the team prepares to take on perhaps an even tougher league next year with the addition of Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and Newberg.

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