By Kevin Brown Herald Writer
LAKEWOOD — The Lakewood High School football team hasn’t been itself lately.
Ordinarily, the Cougars field one of the most wide-open, pass-happy offenses in Snohomish County.
“In years past, we used to be a huge passing team,” said senior running back Christian Melton, who’s been a member of the Lakewood varsity since his freshman season. “We passed probably 80 times a game and ran about 20 times at most.”
Even through their first nine games this fall, the Cougars averaged 20 pass attempts per contest.
Can’t make it tonight’s game? Follow our live blog of the Lakewood-W.F. West state quarterfinal football game at the Prep Zone blog.
But since winning a share of the Cascade Conference title and qualifying for the Class 2A playoffs, Lakewood has turned downright conservative. In their first two postseason appearances, the Cougars (10-1) have attempted just 16 passes. At the same time, they have pounded out astronomical numbers on the ground — a school-record 533 rushing yards on 42 carries in a 55-0 victory over Burlington-Edison on Nov. 4, and another 468 yards on 58 carries in last week’s 43-13 flattening of Lindbergh.
Lakewood coach Dan Teeter said the “shift in philosophy” started with the loss of star tight end Dustin Stanton, one of the team’s leading receivers. The Oregon State-bound Stanton went down with a foot injury prior to the Burlington-Edison game and hasn’t played since. The coaching staff responded by moving a blocker — 6-foot-5, 263-pound senior tackle Jerrod Jones — into Stanton’s spot, a scheme the Cougars dubbed their “tank” formation.
“‘Tank’ was such a physical, powerful name for it,” Teeter said. “We wanted to be a road grader out there.”
Against Burlington-Edison, the Cougars decided to align their backs in an I-formation and let the tank roll until the Tigers stopped it. They never did. Neither did Lindbergh. In each case, the Cougars had other offensive options in the game plan but simply stayed with what was working.
Next up is W.F. West (9-2), which faces Lakewood at 7 tonight at Quil Ceda Stadium in Marysville in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state playoffs.
No one has enjoyed the Cougars’ new fondness for the power running game more than junior running back Donovan Evans. Over the past two games, Evans has rushed for 563 yards on 50 carries, including a school-record 332 yards in the win over B-E. By comparison, Evans had just 73 carries and 518 yards in Lakewood’s first nine games.
Evans credits his success to the Cougars’ offensive line, which includes Jones, tackles Brayden Burbee (6-2, 270) and David Otte (6-3, 245), guards Victor Czarnetzke (6-0, 185), Dylan Donohue (6-1, 235) and Austin Bednar (5-11, 230) and center Thomas Raught (6-3, 255). The Cougars’ gaudy rushing stats are a reflection of the group’s dedication to weight training over the summer and their persistence this fall, Evans said.
“They have stepped it up,” he said. “Two of the linemen I’ve noticed are Victor Czarnetzke and Brayden Burbee. They work super hard trying to get down field after their initial block to make more blocks.”
The holes his teammates have opened are so large Evans rarely has to think twice about which way to run.
“As soon as I get the ball it seems like I know exactly where I’m going to run,” he said, “because I can see all the green.”
Melton, who has 815 yards on the ground this season, was the Cougars’ leading rusher up until Evans’ two-game outburst. Although he’s run for a respectable 197 yards in Lakewood’s two postseason victories, Melton’s primary responsibility these days is to clear the way for Evans.
“He’s just a powerhouse,” Evans said of the 5-foot-9, 217-pound Melton. “He’s short, but he can hit like a tank.”
Melton has no problem playing a supporting role. Truth be told, he’d rather knock the stuffing out of defender than score a touchdown.
“Ahhh, I love blocking,” said a grinning Melton, who this week was named the Cascade Conference’s 2011 defensive player of the year as a linebacker. “I love lighting kids up, it’s a lot of fun. … Scoring touchdowns, laying kids out, I get the best of both worlds.”
Earlier in the week, the forecast for today included the possibility of snow. With a road grader for an offense, Teeter and the Cougars would welcome the white stuff.
“It could be a nice thing,” the coach said. “It would be memorable experience and it would suit the power running game well.”
7 p.m., Quil Ceda Stadium
Class 2A State Quarterfinal game
The Cougars are sailing into uncharted waters. Last week’s win over Lindbergh was the team’s 10th of the season, setting a record for wins in a season. But for their opponent tonight, this is pretty old hat. W.F. West has made the state playoffs four of the past five years, but has had problems getting past the quarterfinals. The Bearcats have advanced to the quarterfinals twice in the past five years, losing both times — to Murphy in 2009 and Lynden in 2006.
This year’s W.F. West team is led by quarterback Mitch Gueller, a Washington State baseball commit. In last week’s first-round state playoff win over Sequim, Gueller finished with 294 yards of offense, including 226 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also had a hand in three of the Bearcats’ first four touchdowns.
W.F. West’s defense has also been a strong point this season. The Bearcats have shut out three teams this season and held two others to a touchdown, including Hockinson in a crossover playoff game two weeks ago. Last week against Sequim, W.F. West intercepted Wolves quarterback Jack Wiker four times and besides two late touchdowns held Sequim’s offense in check.
Lakewood is hoping all-league tight end Dustin Stanton can play tonight. Stanton, who has missed the past three games with a foot injury, will be a game-time decision. Cougars head coach Dan Teeter said Stanton was “about 75 percent” on Tuesday but needs to be 100 percent to play.
My pick: Lakewood 33, W.F. West 26