The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
If you can’t wait for some playoff football, you might as well head over to Wilson High’s Homecoming on Friday night. The Bruins are hosting Lakewood at 7 p.m. in what amounts to a postseason play-in game for the home team, while also serving as a must-win game for the visitors.
Simply put, a Wilson win means the Bruins are going to the playoffs. In fact, they’d be the Moore League’s No. 2 seed thanks to previous wins over Cabrillo, Jordan, and Millikan (via forfeit).
On the other sideline, Lakewood needs the win just as badly, though they’ll still have work to do next week to punch their postseason ticket. The Lancers do control their own destiny, and wins over Wilson and Compton in the final two weeks will give head coach Justin Utupo his first postseason berth as Lakewood head coach.
So, how did we get here?
A month ago, it looked like Wilson might be fortunate to end up with 2 wins this season. With credit to head coach Scott Meyer, his coaching staff, and of course the players on the field, Wilson is now a game away from taking second place in the Moore League. Keying that turnaround is the fact that the Bruins’ offense has found its identity–and thus, its stride–through RB Christian Chapman.
Chapman is averaging 7.3 yards per carry this season and is already a 1,000-yard rusher, collecting 1,042 yards on 142 carries with 8 TDs. He also has six games where he’s run for at least 100 yards.
Meanwhile, QB Ian Bond is doing his part, throwing 4 of his 5 TDs in Wilson’s two on-field league wins over Cabrillo and Jordan. Bond’s passer ratings in those games was 137.5 and 115.7, easily his best performances of the season, completing 22 of 30 passes in those games with just one interception. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year, second only to Chapman.
Their improvement has led to more scoring. In their last three Moore League games (excluding their loss to Poly) Wilson has scored an average of 38 points while putting up no fewer than 25. That’s impressive considering the Bruins scored just 20 points combined in their three non-league games.
Wilson’s momentum will face a tough test on Friday, however, as the rested and hungry Lakewood Lancers come in off their bye week. Prior to the bye, a home loss to rivals Millikan snapped a two-game winning streak for the Lancers, but the bye came at the right time for Utupo and company to refocus the team for these final two games against Wilson and Compton.
Lakewood’s offense should look a bit more balanced, as the Lancers are more willing to put it in the air with strong-armed QB Brayden Downen. His ability to stretch the field could be key against a vulnerable Wilson secondary. Perimeter playmakers like Takim Raye-Brown, Zion Smith, JT DaCoud and others will be a tough cover for the Bruins, and limiting their big plays will certainly be a key for the home team.
The Lancers also have good depth and size on both the offensive and defensive lines, which has translated to success in the running game. Kaleb Foster leads the way with 7.7 yards per carry, but Downen has also rushed for 367 yards and a team-high 4 TDs and Cayden Clark is a solid backup RB to Foster.
Lakewood won this matchup 28-19 a season ago, snapping a six-game losing streak in the series. It’s reasonable to expect another close game, and both teams will have plenty of motivation to win.