By David Krueger Herald Writer
ARLINGTON — The Lakewood football team got it all Friday night.
Holding on for a 17-14 victory over Cascade Conference rival King’s, the Cougars got a league championship, clinched the first undefeated regular season in school history and, most importantly, now will receive league champion T-shirts.
“We said ours from a couple years ago are getting old,” Lakewood head coach Dan Teeter said.
It’s the first outright league title at Lakewood since 1994. The Cougars won a share of the league title with Archbishop Murphy in 2011, but this was the first time the Cougars finished with sole possession of the championship in Teeter’s eight years at Lakewood.
“The people were wondering what it’s going to be like with all the players that left (due to graduation),” Teeter said of the high roster turnover this past season. “To come back and make history with this group of hard-working, blue-collar kids. I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Cougars’ offense had 154 yards in the first half — and 227 yards in the game — but it was the defense that Lakewood relied on in the final two quarters to secure the victory. King’s scored 14 straight points and got the ball with 40 seconds left in the game.
But once again Lakewood’s defense stepped up and stopped King’s.
“It’s going to be tough to keep an offense like that down all game,” Teeter said. “Our defense may bend but it won’t break. ? If we have to trust in our defense to win, I’m confident.”
The Cougars’ defense shined all night. Lakewood forced a fumble, which it recovered for a touchdown, and five three-and-outs. King’s didn’t get a first down until there was 12 seconds to play in the third quarter.
The fumble recovery was even a bit unique. Lakewood’s Paulmer Gregory ripped the ball out of the hands of the Knights’ running back on the seven yard line. Gregory ran the ball back six yards and dove forward for the last one to put the Cougars up 10-0 soon after a 43 yard field goal by Randy Anaya.
King’s had 19 yards of offense in the first half.
Lakewood, meanwhile, scored 17 straight points to take a 17-0 halftime lead. After three incompletions, Cougars’ quarterback Blake Watts’ first completion was an 18-yard touchdown pass to Eric Murray.
Watts finished with 22 carries for 101 yards and was 2-of-5 passing for 36 yards and a touchdown. After a rush where he was taken down by about five King’s defenders, the junior had his non-throwing arm looked at in the fourth quarter while missing part of a Lakewood offensive series.
But after a few plays, No. 5 ran back out to the huddle.
“He’s a competitor,” Teeter said. “He’s hard-nosed. I told him he’d have to be a work horse for us.”
Watts said the Cougars knew it was going to be a tough fight. Lakewood, the No. 5 team in the most recent Associated Press poll, and King’s — No. 8 in 1A — both wanted the league title.
“We just said we need to do what we’ve been doing all season long,” Watts said. “It was going to be a dog fight from the beginning. Just smash-mouth football.”
It looked like Lakewood might cruise to the league title in the first half, but King’s came out with a 94-yard kickoff return by Nick Severson to start the third quarter. It set up a 1-yard Koa Wilkins touchdown run — the first of two for Wilkins — to get the Knights on the board.
“(At halftime) it wasn’t anything X’s and O’s. It was just attitude and effort,” said King’s coach Jim Shapiro of his halftime speech. “We just challenged them to come out and fight in the second half. And they did.”
After a tough first half, Wilkins finished 8-of-18 for 60 yards passing. Including sacks he had 12 carries for 34 yards but made some big plays with his legs in the fourth quarter to keep the second King’s scoring drive alive.
“You’ve got to hand it to a sophomore quarterback like Koa,” Shapiro said. “To step in there and do it was incredible.”
Wilkins got the Knights right back in the game and, with a defensive stand, King’s got the ball back in the final minute.
But that’s when Lakewood’s defense stepped up, easing some of the nerves of their head coach on the sideline.
“Oh I was never –,” Teeter started with a laugh. “Of course. Their offense is explosive. I was confident. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous.”
The game was largely just for bragging rights. Both teams had already locked up their classification’s respective No. 1 seeds out of the Cascade Conference with Lakewood (6-0 league, 9-0 overall) taking the top 2A seed and the Knights (5-1, 7-2) securing the 1A No. 1 spot.
Shapiro said it was a great atmosphere for King’s to play in before the district tournament, which starts next Friday.
“I told the kids we’re playing for a championship (against Lakewood),” Shapiro said. “But it’s just the first one. Now we’re playing for another one. This will be the spark and focus and energy this team needs.”
Teeter agreed, saying this was just the test Lakewood needed before the playoffs. He’s hoping the Cougars can carry their momentum — and new T-shirts — into the postseason.
“You’re going to see nothing but quality teams from here on out,” Teeter said. “It’s a great confidence builder for us. King’s is a great team.”
At Dick Cardinal Stadium, Lakewood
King’s 0 0 7 7 — 14
Lakewood 3 14 0 0 — 17
L–Randy Anaya 43 FG
L–Paulmer Gregory 7 fumble recovery (Anaya kick)
L–Eric Murray 18 pass from Blake Watts (Anaya kick)
K–Koa Wilkins 1 run (Lucas Swanson kick)
K–Wilkins 14 run (Swanson kick)
Records–King’s 5-1 league, 7-2 overall. Lakewood 6-0, 9-0.