LAKE OSWEGO — It took top-seeded Lake Oswego a full half and then some to find a flyswatter big enough to get rid of pesky Central Catholic on Friday night, but the Lakers used it mercilessly and advanced to the 6A football semifinals with a 35-24 victory.
The win sends the Lakers to Hillsboro Stadium next Friday at noon for a heavyweight rematch bout with Jesuit, which stormed back to beat Tigard 23-22 on Friday. The Lakers gave the Crusaders their only loss of the season, 20-14, back on Sept. 7.
To get to Hillsboro, though, the Lakers (11-1) had to get around the No. 8 Rams (7-5), and there was no short cut to do it. The Rams, who might be the best five-loss team in Oregon history, passed the Lakers dizzy in the first half and were very much in the game until Lake Oswego’s Thomas Dukart intercepted Central quarterback Cade Knighton’s last pass with 3:21 to go.
At the outset of the game it looked like another efficient Lake Oswego dismantling of another overmatched visitor.
The Lakers scored on their first three drives, and with 8:12 left in the first half held a commanding 21-3 lead.
It wasn’t, for a change, all about the Lakers’ splendidly talented running back Casey Filkins. Filkins had last week off with a tender groin pull and didn’t even practice much this week. The Lakers went elsewhere — to Keenan DeRaeve and Collin Bracken — with impressive results.
“At the start of the game we were really excited,” Lakers coach Steve Coury said. “I think we surprised them with how we were running the ball, and with different guys.
“But they didn’t hang their hats. They fought back.”
Understatement of the season, that. The Rams had weapons at wide receiver, and used them to get back in the game.
After Filkins moosed over from six yards away on the first drive of the second quarter for the biggest Lake Oswego lead, Knighton moved the Rams 84 yards — 62 of them on just two passes — and got Central’s first touchdown in a 19-yard strike to Silas Starr.
A sack and a holding penalty — the Lakers had four of them in the first half — stopped Lake Oswego on its next drive, then Knighton struck again.
He completed a fourth down, 27-yard pass to Jaden Fulsher, then hit Starr again from the 11 to draw the Rams to within 21-17 at the half. Now the visitors had the first kickoff of the second half — and the momentum.
“You could feel our momentum go down,” Coury said. “What you can’t see on film is how big their receivers are. We told the kids at the half that this game is 85 percent mental.
“We got the momentum back when we had to.”
Knighton bedeviled the Lakers with 183 first-half yards, and clearly had the home team concerned.
“They have a lot of good receivers,” said defensive end Marshall McGuire, “but we stopped a lot of their running plays.”
Most of them, actually, and Coury said it made a difference.
“Stopping their running game was critical,” he said. “We gave them some different coverages in the second half and started playing some man-to-man, and we still managed to get some pressure on them with our defensive three up front.”
It all worked to keep the Rams bottled up in the last 24 minutes. Filkins threw a haymaker at the Rams sith a 53-yard touchdown run down the left sideline on the Lakers’ first drive of the second half. But the Rams threw one right back when Khalen Bostic ran the ensuing kickoff back 87 yards for a touchdown.
The Rams stayed in touch until the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Lakers faced a fourth down, 6 to go on the Rams’ 19.
The Lakers lined Filkins up on the slot, and quarterback Jackson Laurent hit him over the middle for a touchdown and a 35-24 lead with 6:32 left in the game.
“It’s a play we use in big situations like that,” Filkins said. “Jackson made a great move when he stepped up on the throw. I was just trying to get a first down, but it worked out.”
The Rams never recovered.