The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
Is this just another case of history repeating?
Last year, Lakewood shook off a slow start and rode a winning streak into the postseason that ended in the CIF Southern Section Division 8 championship game.
This year, the Lancers once again started slow and are coming on strong to ride another winning streak into the playoffs. They finished the regular season with a 42-7 win over Compton at Compton College on Friday night.
Lakewood (5-5, 4-2) will find out what division it will be in and who it will play in the postseason on Sunday when the brackets are released. Coach Justin Utupo hopes his program gets into the highest division possible.
“We pride ourselves in being able to compete with anybody,” Utupo said. “As a program, we want to see Lakewood continue to move forward. Whatever division we’re in, the goal is a championship.”
The Lancers have won four of their last five games. Compton (3-7, 1-5) finished sixth in the Moore League.
“We challenged our team to come out with effort and enthusiasm,” Utupo said of the regular season finale. “It’s hard to stop (Compton’s) style of offense so we wanted to see (our players) come together and get excited to celebrate with one another and take some momentum into next week.”
After a fantastic Senior Night ceremony for Compton, Lakewood spoiled the party with a touchdown on its first possession. Quarterback Kade Casillas found Cecil Xavier Smith for 39 yards and Sean Lane for 40 yards before taking in himself for a 10-yard touchdown that caped a four-play drive.
The second time he touched the ball, Casillas led another four-play scoring drive that ended on a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Caleb Tafua— who finished with five receptions for 55 yards.
“He’s going to be one of the top tight ends in the class of 2026 and he’s already got scholarship offers from USC, Utah and other big time programs,” Utupo said of Tafua. “What I love about him is that he works like he has zero offers. It’s that humble and hungry mentality that’s going to take him far in life.”
A pair of Tafua’s big catches came after Casillas called his tight end’s attention to change the play his way.
“I know exactly what he’s doing,” Tafua said of his connection with fellow sophomore Casillas. “In practice when he reads the defense he will tell me what route to run and he just knows his stuff. I trust him and thank him for that.”
Casillas completed all but one of his 10 pass attempts in the first half and finished the night 13/18 for 242 yards. Utupo talked after the game about how important player-led leadership is this time of year.
“If the coaches aren’t out here, who is going to call the plays? If our headsets die, or we don’t know the signals, who is going to step up? That’s where we love to see our young quarterback maturing and taking control of the offense by being able to read the defense and check to plays he’s more comfortable with. It’s starting to slow down for him.”
Lakewood’s defense was also able to slow the game down and read the Compton double-wing rushing attack, as well as a mix of pass plays dialed up by freshman quarterback Francis Madera. Compton was limited to 118 yards on offense.
“We like being aggressive in all three phases,” said Lakewood linebacker EJ Baltazar, who also forced a fumble in the third quarter. “If we’re all on the same page we can stop anyone.”
Running back Charlie Wright’s touchdown with less than a minute left in the second quarter capped the longest Lakewood drive of the night that was nine plays and over eight minutes. The Lancers led 21-0 at halftime.
Compton put together its best drive of the night late in the third quarter when running back Tyree Sheppard had a few big runs and Madera completed five of his nine attempts. The last one was an eight-yard touchdown to Dwayne Douglas that capped the 15-play, eight-minute drive that was helped by a penalty.
The Lancers answered on their ensuing drive and Wright scored from 31 yards out to make it 28-7 with nine minutes left to play.
Lakewood recovered a pooch kick and then scored again two plays later when backup quarterback Valentino Saenz-Castruita went over the top to Lane for a 45-yard score. Saenz-Castruita also threw a late touchdown pass to Kymoni Hall.
Senior defensive tackle Alex Rodriguez had a few tackles for loss for Lakewood, and sophomore defensive back Tiwan Jones came up with the only interception of the game in the fourth quarter. It’s the 21st forced turnover for Lakewood this season.
Come back to The562.org on Sunday morning for the CIF Southern Section playoff bracket announcements.