By David Krueger Herald Writer
It’s a showdown that’s been nine weeks in the making.
Every Friday — and one Thursday — this season, the King’s and Lakewood high school football teams have taken care of business, with neither team losing a game.
Tonight, that changes.
The 8-0 Cougars, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 2A, travel to 8-0 King’s, the top-ranked team in 1A, for a Week 9 battle that will determine the Cascade Conference champion.
For a complete breakdown of tonight’s Lakewood-King’s game, click here.
It’s a game both teams have been anxiously awaiting all season.
“It’s extremely important. This is something we’ve been looking forward to,” Lakewood coach Dan Teeter said. “We got a share of the title (last season) for the first time, I think, since 1994. It’s one of our big goals for the year.
“We’ve got goals beyond that too.”
Indeed, this is not the last game either team will play. Each has locked up the Cascade Conference’s No. 1 seed for its respective postseason tournament — King’s in 1A and Lakewood in 2A. Aside from that one big difference, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams.
Both Lakewood and King’s were eliminated from last year’s state tournament in the quarterfinals. Lakewood fell to W.F. West 33-18. King’s was bounced from the 1A tourney with a 35-13 loss to Montesano, the third straight year the Knights lost in the quarterfinals.
It’s also the first time in a while that the Cascade Conference title will not include Archbishop Murphy. Lakewood and King’s, long in Murphy’s shadow, each took care of the Wildcats this season, winning by a combined score of 89-15.
Finally, each team relies on a senior quarterback, albeit for different reasons. For King’s, Cascade Conference passing leader Billy Green stands behind center. Green has thrown for 2,144 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, after committing to play at Brigham Young University before the season started.
On the Lakewood side, there’s Justin Peterson. The quarterback/wide receiver/running back has emerged as a triple threat out of the Cougars’ backfield. The senior has thrown for 363 yards and four touchdowns, run for 421 yards and six touchdowns and caught 21 passes for 394 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Cougars also have senior Kolby Schueller, a more traditional quarterback, who has thrown for 957 yards — good for second place in the conference behind Green — and 15 touchdowns.
For a look back at the prep football season so far, click here.
Even though tonight is not really a playoff game, both coaches agree that it has a postseason feel.
“This is a playoff environment. From here on out every game in our book means something,” King’s head coach Jim Shapiro said. “It’s Senior Night. At home. It’s going to be a playoff environment. This is exactly what you want as a coach. I want the kids to compete every week.”
The players and coaches expect a close game. There haven’t been a lot of those for either squad this season.
Lakewood has outscored its five conference opponents — Murphy, South Whidbey, Sultan, Cedarcrest and Granite Falls — 253-26. King’s has outscored the same five teams 253-55.
“Football’s always fun,” Peterson said, “but when you’re playing a team and you’re way ahead, it’s not as fun.”
Of course, after tonight, there will be one big difference between the teams: one will be the Cascade Conference champion.
“They’re 2A, I’m 1A, so there’s no playoff implications for the game,” Green said. “It’s kind of for Cascade Conference pride. It’s a good way to go into the playoffs, playing a good team like Lakewood.”
The seniors on Lakewood’s team have never defeated the Knights, which provides even more motivation for tonight’s game.
“I’ve never beat King’s in football or basketball,” Peterson said. “That’s kind of a big thing for me and all the seniors.”
King’s faced last year’s 2A state champion, Lynden, in Week 1, defeating the Lions in a 42-39 thriller. Shapiro said he believes Lakewood is on the same level as the defending state champ.
“I’d put them at the top,” Shapiro said. “Lynden has such a strong history and tradition of being a state-caliber team, but seeing Lakewood on film I’d put Lakewood right next to them.”
Showing even more similarities, Teeter said the same thing about King’s. He said the showdown will show the Cougars areas they need to improve on before the playoffs begin next week.
“I would say that they’re no doubt the toughest team we’ll play this season,” Teeter said. “They’re probably heads and shoulders above every other team we’ve played. It’s good for us to kind of gauge where we’re at, maybe see some things we need to work on before playoffs. It’ll give us an opportunity to fix things before the second part of the season begins.”
The final similarity between Lakewood and King’s is after this week is over, the two teams will go back to cheering for each other.
“We’re rooting for them,” Green said. “We’ll definitely be rooting for Lakewood and Archbishop Murphy. We’ll be rooting for all the Cascade Conference teams.”
“You always want to see your conference do well,” Teeter said. “Jim runs a class program over there at King’s. After this week we’d love to see them do really well. If they’re going to have one down week in this season, we’d love it to be this one.”