ARLINGTON — In a normal year, the Lakewood High School football team would’ve been eyeing another deep postseason run.
But with no playoffs during this abbreviated spring season, the Cougars won’t get that chance.
That hasn’t stopped them from making a statement, though.
The unbeaten Cougars erased an early 15-point deficit and continued their success-filled spring with a 32-21 win over visiting Archbishop Murphy on Friday night in a showdown between a pair of league rivals that reached the Class 2A state quarterfinals last season.
“I think this is a championship-caliber team,” said Lakewood coach Dan Teeter, whose Cougars came oh-so-close to earning their program’s second-ever state semifinal berth last season. “I think we could’ve made a good run this year. It’s just a shame we didn’t get that opportunity. But I think they proved it tonight.”
The Cougars (4-0) steamrolled Wesco 3A teams Marysville Getchell, Everett and Stanwood in their first three games by a combined 194-21 margin, including a combined 159-0 in the first halves of those contests.
But after surrendering a pair of long first-quarter touchdown passes on broken coverages Friday night, Lakewood found itself in an early 15-0 hole less than seven minutes into the game.
“We told (our players) that they were facing the best team they’ve faced all year and they were going to have to weather a storm, because it was going to happen,” Teeter said. “There was going to be adversity. … And how are you going to handle it?”
The Cougars handled it by scoring 30 straight points and mostly shutting down perennial 2A state powerhouse Archbishop Murphy (1-3) for the rest of the night.
Lakewood did so despite learning shortly before the game that it would be without star running back Malik Dotson, who had rushed for 484 yards and 11 touchdowns in the first three contests. Dotson had been deemed a close contact through COVID-19 protocols, according to Teeter.
“I think as the game wore out — and this is not to disrespect (Archbishop Murphy), they’re a good football team — but I think the better team won,” Teeter said. “I think we have an exceptional team this year, and I’m really proud of the guys and how they’ve really overcome everything that life’s thrown at them.”
Carson Chrisman, a Division II-bound senior who signed with Minot State in North Dakota, sparked Lakewood’s first-half comeback with a pair of big plays.
Immediately after Archbishop Murphy took a 15-0 lead, Chrisman returned the ensuing kickoff down the left sideline to the 2-yard line. Junior quarterback Justice Taylor ran in a keeper on the very next play to put Lakewood on the board.
Chrisman then struck again in the opening minute of the second quarter, taking an option pitch 36 yards down the right sideline to trim the deficit to 15-13.
The dynamic all-purpose standout finished with 74 yards rushing and a touchdown on eight carries. He also had a 29-yard completion on a halfback pass and an interception on defense to go along with his long kickoff return.
“There’s a reason he’s gonna go play D-II football next year on a scholarship,” Teeter said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. And he’s worked for that. His freshman year, he did not get called up for varsity at the end of the year when some of his classmates did. And he didn’t complain, didn’t whine about it. He just worked, worked, worked.
“He’s got natural ability, but he’s made himself into a great athlete, because he’s got one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen.”
The Cougars’ special teams came through with another big play later in the second quarter, when senior Shae Dixon returned a punt 51 yards down the right sideline for a go-ahead touchdown.
“With Shae and Carson back there (in the return game), it’s kind of pick your poison, because they’re both shifty and fast,” Teeter said. “… Our special teams has been amazing. Without having spring ball and team camp and all those other things, it would be really easy to overlook special teams. But (special teams coach Jake Kon) has those kids playing so hard.”
Freshman kicker Dylan Kirkpatrick added a 26-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half to give Lakewood a 23-15 lead at the break.
Then after the teams traded three empty possessions apiece to open the second half, Taylor scored his second touchdown of the night on a 6-yard quarterback keeper to extend the Cougars’ lead to 30-15 with 10:24 to play. The lefty quarterback finished with a team-high 144 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
Archbishop Murphy responded with a 6-yard touchdown run by Jelani Guerrero with 7:36 remaining. But the Wildcats botched the snap on the ensuing extra point, which kept it a two-possession game at 30-21.
The Cougars added a safety in the final minute to cap a strong defensive performance.
Lakewood’s defense held Archbishop Murphy to just 210 total yards. After giving up long touchdown passes on the Wildcats’ first two possessions, the Cougars limited them to just 97 yards on 39 plays for the rest of the game.
“Our line was just controlling the line of scrimmage,” Teeter said. “That was where this game was won — right up front. We gave up a couple of scores early on broken coverages, but they never consistently moved the ball on us. Our D-line (and) our O-line were awesome.”
Archbishop Murphy sophomore quarterback Kai Lewis threw touchdown passes of 48 yards to Joe Ennis and 50 yards to Aaron Owens on his team’s first two possessions. He also completed a 41-yard pass to Austin Burns that set up the Wildcats’ fourth-quarter touchdown.
Friday night marked the latest challenge in what’s been a daunting schedule for Archbishop Murphy this spring. The Wildcats’ other two losses were to a pair of undefeated Wesco 4A teams in Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak.
“We welcome the challenges,” Archbishop Murphy coach Mark Leone said. “We’re always excited for it and we know it’ll help build our program in the long run. And it’ll also teach these seniors some adversity and challenges in life, and hard work.”