The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
The improbable postseason run for Lakewood football ended in the CIF Southern Section Division 8 championship game on Saturday night at John Ford Stadium. The Lancers couldn’t overcome a slow start and fell to visiting Northwood 35-14.
“This game doesn’t define this team,” Lakewood coach Justin Utupo said. “This team has found a way each and every game this year, and even in this game, we just kept fighting… That’s why I’m so proud of this group. And that’s why I told him at the end of the game, you got to hold your head up high. Lakewood football is definitely not done, we’ll be back.”
Northwood scored on three of its first four drives of the night to take a 21-0 lead into halftime while the Timberwolves defense was able to slow down the Lakewood rushing attack. The Lancers ran the ball 32 times for a total of 133 net yardage.
“It was a slow start with too many mistakes,” said Lakewood running back Kaleb Foster, who rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries. “We picked it up, it was just too late, a little too late.”
The star of the night was Northwood running back Adam Harper, who didn’t leave the field while playing both sides of the ball. Harper rushed the ball 26 times for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Harper and the Timberwolves beat Jordan in the CIF-SS Division 11 championship game last year.
“He’s just unbelievable what he does,” Northwood coach JC Clarke said of Harper. “We played fast tonight. That's what we hoped for.”
Northwood got deep into Lakewood territory early and often and took a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the night as Eugene Miyata hit Ahmad Kazi for a 14-yard touchdown on 3rd & 10. The Timberwolves converted on four of its first five 3rd down attempts.
“You definitely can't start a championship game slow,” Utupo said. “When you give up explosive plays you’re going to struggle.”
Anthony Winston Jr. blocked a Northwood field goal attempt on its second drive, but the Timberwolves doubled their lead early in the second quarter when Harper went 60 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and 14-0 advantage.
Lakewood got past midfield on its ensuing drive, but was forced to punt after consecutive incompletions.
Northwood was pinned back on its ensuing possession, but on its second play Miyata went over the top to Andrew Penrod for an 82-yard touchdown and 21-0 lead.
Lakewood quarterback Brayden Downen hit Takim Raye-Brown Jr. on a swing pass for 39-yards to get the Lancers into Northwood territory with about a minute until halftime. Lakewood proceeded to have seven plays from inside the Timberwolves 10-yard line as the half came to a close, but the Lancers were turned away and went to halftime trailing 21-0.
The second half started with a bang for Lakewood as Downen pulled up to find Kaleb Foster on the sideline for a 70-yard catch and run touchdown that got the Lancers on the board 21-7.
Lakewood’s defense delivered a much-needed three and out, but the punt pinned the Lancers back on their own 1-yard line. The punt three plays later bounced at the 35-yard line where Harper scooped it and quickly took it inside the Lakewood 5-yard line. Harper took his next carry into the end zone to make it 28-7.
After the two teams traded punts, Downen came up with his second long pass touchdown of the half when he went over the top to Ethan Sharp for the 65-yard score and 28-14 Timberwolves lead.
Harper clinched the victory with his third touchdown of the night to cap an eight-play drive that were eight consecutive runs by the senior.
“He's a four year starter who was a 155-pound freshman,” Clarke said of Harper. “He started at defensive tackle because I just had to get him on the field. And when we went nickel, he went to safety. He went from tackle to safety in the same series. He's a really bright young man and plays hard. He's just unbelievable.”
Northwood will once again participate in the CIF State championship next week.
“(Our seniors) left a legacy and they've paved the way for these younger guys on this team to be right back where we are tonight, competing and challenging other teams for a championship,” Utupo said of his Lakewood program. “This is just the beginning… Right now we're not happy that we lost, but we're gonna get right back to work.”
“We didn't get the result that we wanted, but it was great to be here,” Foster added.