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Football Lakewood

Football: Lakewood Drops Close One To Laguna Hills

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

All Lakewood football does is play close games.

For the third consecutive week the Lancers found themselves in a one-score game in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, but they fell short against visiting Laguna Hills on Friday to lose their home opener 31-23.

“We’ve learned we can really get into a dog fight with anyone we play,” Lakewood sophomore quarterback Kade Casillas said. “We just have to turn these losses into wins by coming back (on Saturday) and fixing the mental mistakes.”

Lakewood (1-2) has classically struggled with penalties and did so again on Friday with 14 penalties called on them for over 150 net yardage.

“We have to clean up the penalties,” Lakewood coach Justin Utupo said. “We always talk about moving forward and never backwards. We have to be smart, play football, and move onto the next play.”

It was tied 10-10 at halftime before Laguna Hills (3-0) scored on its first two drives of the third quarter. The teams traded kickoff returns for touchdowns late in the third quarter to make it a one-score game, but the Hawks controlled the ball in the fourth quarter and the Lancers couldn’t score on its two late possessions.

Casillas finished the game 18-for-30 with 236 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to JT Dacoud. The senior had six catches for 109 yards. Lakewood only rushed for 63 net yards on 15 carries.

“We had a solid game plan coming in but some things didn’t go our way,” said Utupo, who called the plays with offensive coordinator Malik Zaire out of town. “Being down by two possessions kind of got us out of our game plan. But we fought our way back. We have to look at the positives from tonight too and build off of that.”

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It looked like Laguna Hills would take a lead on its first possession, but Laguna Hills fumbled the ball at the Lakewood 4-yard line.

The Lancers proceeded to go 96 yards on eight plays as Casillas found Sean Lane for a 37-yard pick up on third down, and then on the next play hit Dacoud over the top for a 33-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Laguna Hills answered on their next drive with a 36-yard field goal from Luke Whitfield, and then scored a touchdown on the drive after that when quarterback Ben Trocchio hit Reece Burnham IV for an 11-yard score to make it 10-7 with 2:12 left until halftime. Trocchio went 10-for-12 with 115 yards, and Burnham IV had five catches for 67 yards. 

Defensively, It’s moments in the game where we need a big time stop. There were moments in that game where we knew they were going to run, and as a defense we have to step up. We have to keep swarming to the ball and being physical for all four quarters.

Casillas led Lakewood right back down to get a field goal before halftime and Andrew Heang was good from 30 yards out to make it 10-10.

Penalties helped Laguna Hills march right down and score on the first drive of the second half, and then the Hawks ground out the clock with their strong rushing attack to score again and take a 24-10 lead with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. The Hawks rushed for 146 yards on 31 carries.

However Casillas did it again, completing four of his five attempts on the ensuing drive. The last one was a 26-yard catch and run touchdown to Dacoud that made it 24-16.

Laguna Hills senior Jake Minotta got the points right back by taking the ensuing kickoff 74-yards back to the end zone.

But then Lakewood junior Cecil Xavier Smith did the same thing for his team, and his 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended up capping the scoring 31-23. There were on points in the fourth quarter.

“We have to just be dialed in,” McCowen said. “We’re close, it’s just the little stuff that needs to be fixed. We’re going to get there.”

VIDEO: Lakewood vs. Laguna Hills, Football
PHOTOS: Lakewood vs. Laguna Hills, Football
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.