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The “Red Swarm” Lakewood defense hangs their hats on being a disruptive unit, and they certainly spoiled the party at Jordan on Friday night where the Panthers were celebrating Homecoming.
Lakewood forced four turnovers and came up with eight sacks on its way to a 24-13 win.
“We know we have to be aggressive if we want to go back to where we were last year,” Lakewood linebacker EJ Baltazar said of getting back to a CIF championship game. “Our coaches also preach being aggressive every single play. That’s Red Swarm defense.”
The victory gives Lakewood (3-4, 2-1) the inside track to one of the automatic playoff bids out of the Moore League, and leaves Jordan (4-2, 0-2) with a lot of work left to reach the postseason.
“We challenged the team and told them that you have to play your asses off or there won’t be any playoffs,” Lakewood coach Justin Utupo said. “We always want to take care of one game at a time. But there’s no sugarcoating it. If we didn’t take care of business tonight our playoff chances are very slim. This team wants to keep playing. They answered the call.”
Baltazar, Tyree McCowen, Kaelib Verduzco, Marshawn Drummond, Rovana Tufugafale and other Lakewood defenders combined to come up with 11 tackles for loss in the Jordan backfield.
“We wanted to make their quarterback uncomfortable and we thought the best chance was to get pressure on him now,” Utupo said.
Panthers quarterback Jarret Nielsen was averaging over 400 all-purpose yards per game coming into the night, and the Lancers limited him to 135 yards passing. He only completed nine of his 26 attempts with three interceptions and a fumble.
“We practiced hard all week to put in new blitzes and then we just executed,” Tufugafale said. “I already knew from the start that we could get after them.”
Both defenses were on the front foot early as they recovered fumbles on consecutive plays in the first quarter. Lakewood’s Anthony Winston Jr. came free on the blitz for the blind-side hit on Nielsen that forced the fumble. Baltazar recovered it, and on the very next play, Lakewood quarterback Kade Casillas scrambled and found Caleb Tafua for a 45-yard catch and run touchdown.
“We have been practicing that all week, I rolled right and they rolled with me, so I hit a little side-armed throw to Tafua and he took it to the house,” Casillas said.
Jordan would tie the game 7-7 at the end of the quarter when Jordan Washington took it down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. He finished with 156 yards on 13 carries.
Lakewood got its rushing attack going on the ensuing drive and Charlie Wright punched it in from a yard out to cap an 8-play drive that put the Lancers up 14-7.
The Panthers had a response of their own thanks to another big run from Washington that set him up for a short touchdown and 14-13 deficit.
With 1:36 left in the first half, Casillas used short passes in the flat to move his team into scoring position. Then with about 45 seconds left, Casillas found J.T. Dacoud in the middle of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown and a 21-13 lead at halftime. It is Dacoud’s seventh touchdown, and Casillas’ 13th of his sophomore campaign.
The second half had a lot fewer offensive highlights while sacks, turnovers and penalties stopped all but one drive. Lakewood was whistled for 14 penalties and over 160 penalty yards, while Jordan was penalized 11 times for 105 yards.
A halftime adjustment from the Lakewood coaching staff opened up the rushing attack for Wright and Nytrell Miller. They combined for 195 yards on 31 carries.
“We were stopping ourselves with the penalties, but the offensive line started getting on their guys and everything started working,” Miller said. “I was running hard and not giving up on any play.”
Jordan’s defense forced a pair of fumbles on their own goal line to keep it a two-possession game after Lakewood kicker Andrew Heang drilled a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers couldn’t score in the second half.
“As a defensive unit we come together and talk things out,” Baltazar said. “Things in the first half weren’t really going our way, we felt like we gave them too much. So at halftime we talked about being on their necks every single play.”
Lakewood has a rivalry game with Millikan coming up next week while Jordan will look to snap its losing streak against Compton. However, Jordan coach Jon Nielsen said after the game that changes are coming for the Panthers.
“We have some internal issues in our team, we’ve got to clean our stuff up,” he said. “Hats off to Lakewood for winning, but we’ve got to figure out some things, like who is going to be on the team and who is not. There’s going to be some changes as to who is on the team going forward.”