Football Lakewood

Football: Lakewood Drops John Ford Stadium Opener to Orange Vista

The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by JP Crawford, Class of 2013.

The Lakewood Lancers opened the new and improved John Ford Stadium on Friday night, hosting Orange Vista in their first football game of the season, and their first game on campus since 2019. The stadium looked incredible, but the Lancers weren’t quite at home in it, as they were just a half step off for most of the game, which they ended up losing 35-13.

After the game, Lakewood coach Justin Utupo challenged his team to humble themselves and re-commit to working and improving.

“I challenged them that we’re going to face adversity, so how are we going to respond?” he said. “This game was humbling for us for sure. We get to learn from it and we have a long season ahead. So we’ll get things fixed and we’ll move forward.”

Small mistakes turned into big moment for the Lancers from the very beginning of the game. On Orange Vista’s second possession, the Lakewood defense looked like they’d gotten them off the field on fourth down at midfield, with an incomplete pass–but a late hit penalty on the play extended the Coyotes’ drive, which ended in a touchdown to go up 7-0.

The Lancers offense was out of sync for the next two drives, just barely missing on deep passes. The Coyotes scored the game’s next two touchdowns, taking a 21-0 lead late in the first half and putting Lakewood on the ropes. But the Lancers got a jumpstart just before the break thanks to Zion Smith’s 65 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which featured a few nice moves and then impressive breakaway speed to cut the lead to 21-6.

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The teams traded three-and-outs to start the second half and then Rahkeen Moore intercepted an Orange Vista pass to give Lakewood the ball back. Two plays later, the Lancers gave it away again on a fumbled snap.

Once again, the Lakewood defense stepped up however as Noah Mallon recovered a fumble on the ensuing drive. This time, the Lakewood offense came through. QB Brayden Downen perfectly floated a ball to running back Kaleb Foster on a wheel route, and he hauled it in and took it 48 yards to paydirt, cutting the lead to 21-13 with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.

From that point the Coyotes response was quick and overwhelming, as a gassed Lakewood defense struggled to get Orange Vista off the field. QB Khalil Aziz was excellent for the Coyotes in the first game of his freshman season, and he had a steady target in Sire Gaines, who had over 150 yards receiving and rushing and a pair of scores. He hit Gaines to put Orange Vista up 28-13, then put the cherry on top to make it 35-13 late in the game.

“We’ve got to watch film and lean on the positives, we got a nice spark from special teams and Zion’s return tonight,” said Utupo. 

He also said he was happy his team got a good look at a quality opponent out of the gate to help show them where they need to go this year.

“We knew what type of team Orange Vista is, they’ve done a great job over there,” said Utupo. “We’ve got to be able to get pressure on the QB and we’ve got to win those one on one matchups when the ball is in the air. We wanted so badly to come out here and get this victory in the newly-renovated John Ford Stadium. But we know in the game of football there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs--we’re going to win, and we’re going to lose. The message moving forward is how do we respond?”

The Lancers will be back in action on Thursday next week hosting San Dimas.

VIDEO: Lakewood vs. Orange Vista, Football
PHOTOS: Lakewood vs. Orange Vista, Football
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.