The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
Lakewood advanced to the CIF-SS football semifinals for the first time in over a decade, as the Lancers defeated the Redondo Union Sea Hawks, 33-7.
“This is a damn good football team. We were supposed to do that,” said head coach Justin Utupo to his team in the post-game huddle.
Lakewood will travel to Rancho Verde in Moreno Valley for next week’s semifinal game. Rancho Verde (5-7, 3-2 Ivy) defeated Elsinore 53-25, in their quarterfinal match up.
The Lancers started off hot with an explosive deep ball pass to junior wide receiver JT Dacoud, from their own 25 to get them to the Redondo 35, on their first play from scrimmage.
“It is the playoffs, so you got to put in new wrinkles,” elaborated Utupo. “We showed all season to start with a run or a short pass. Now, to practice something all week and execute, it boosts the confidence and the trust in everyone. It puts trust in the coaches to the players, and the players to the coaches.”
The drive was capped with senior quarterback Brayden Downen calling his own number, and he ran in for the score, giving the Lancers the early 7-0 lead.
The Red Swarm defense looked as good as the offense early, as freshman defensive back Ayeven Aupiu intercepted Redondo’s quarterback, Christian Hunt, on the Sea Hawks’ second drive. The defense would force back-to-back turnovers, a fumble recovered by junior defensive tackle, Rahkeen Moore, at midfield.
The offense failed to capitalize on the prime field position, and the quarter ended with Lakewood in the lead, 7-0.
Momentum would swing to Redondo’s side in the start of the second half, as the Sea Hawks blocked a Lancers’ field goal attempt. With their student section, the Flock, and defensive miscues, Redondo found themselves on the Lancers’ one yard line.
The Red Swarm fended off multiple attempts, yet on fourth and inches, Hunt’s 6’6” figure jumped over the Lancers’ line for the score. It was all tied up, 7-7, with 4:32 left in the first half.
The Sea Hawks pounced on the dazed Lancers, as they attempted and succeeded an onside kick. Turning it over on downs, the teams would trade one possession each before the half ended, 7-7.
Coming out of the locker room, like the tale of their seasons, Lakewood exploded for their next three drives, while Redondo stalled.
Senior running back Zion Smith would start the scoring with a 76 yard run, giving the Lancers the lead back. Next drive, senior running back Cayden Clark would go up the Lakewood sideline for 58 yards to increase the lead 21-7.
The Red Swarm continued their dominance, forcing back-to-back three and outs for the Sea Hawks. However, Redondo would pin Lakewood on their own two yard line next possession.
The Lancers surged down the field, as senior wide receiver Ethan Sharp saved the drive with two giant catch and runs. The Lancers finished the drive with a touchdown by senior running back, Kaleb Foster, continuing his late season dominance. The PAT would be blocked, yet the Lancers were ahead comfortably, 27-7, with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
“We talked about believing and trusting one another, so we trusted our run game,” commented Utupo about the offense’s second half surge. Every running back had a touchdown in the second half for the Lancers.
The Lancers would score one last time, again by Foster from one yard out, at the start of the fourth quarter. Lakewood would go on to win the game 33-7.
“You know, it made us who we are, and we found out what works,” commented Brayden Downen on the Lancers’ late season momentum and their run game.
“It feels so much better [on campus] than last year. There’s way more support, and everyone is behind the team. I mean, look at the stands here, they are nearly packed, and it was about an hour drive away,” said Downen on the campus and community support during their playoff run.
Downen said his team doesn’t mind hitting the road again:
“We don’t really care about being on the road. It would be nice to be playing at home, but I like to silence the [home team’s] crowds. Like Coach Utupo said, we just gotta be road warriors.”
Asked how the Lancers will prepare, Utupo explained “We need to play the rest of the way out like we did in the second half. We meet at 8 AM tomorrow to watch and break down the film. Then, we make a game plan, like we have been doing week in and week out.”