Screenshot 2023 11 02 At 10.53.30 Pm
Football Lakewood

PREVIEW: Lakewood vs. King, CIF Football Playoffs

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.

The Lakewood Lancers have unfinished business in the CIF Southern Section football playoffs.

After hosting and losing the Division 8 championship game last year, Lakewood is up in Division 7 and looking to return to the promised land.

Or, as Lakewood’s honorary captain this week EJ Baltazar said, “This is our revenge story.”

The journey starts Friday night as Lakewood visits King High in Riverside for the playoff opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“We love the road environment because that’s when you see leaders rise and bring the team closer together,” Lakewood coach Justin Utupo said. “It helps to have returning starters with that postseason experience from last year, especially on the road (at Redondo Union and Rancho Verde) so those guys set the tone during practice. I feel really good about our preparation, and the response has been really good from the young guys.”

This season has been eerily similar to last season when Lakewood struggled to find its own identity in the non-league schedule. Once Kaleb Faster put his mark on the offense with some hard-nosed downhill running, and Rahkeem Moore put his more on the defense with tenacious pressure in the trenches, the Lancers turned their season around just in time for a playoff run.

Lakewood started this season with four very close non-league games, and narrow losses to Laguna Hills and Mayfair kept the Lancers under .500 headed into league play. That started with a loss to Long Beach Poly, but it was a close game at halftime, and Utupo said his team took a lot of confidence from that defeat.

The Lancers showed that in the following week against Cabrillo, and in a key 24-13 win at Jordan. A blowout loss to rival Millikan could’ve derailed Lakewood, but it bounced back with a playoff-clinching win against Wilson that was sparked by sophomore quarterback Kade Casillas.

READ MORE about how Casillas has found his rhythm by being himself.

Casillas and his offense will have its hands full against a solid King defense.

Monthly Subscribers to The562

By The562 Network Inc

King (6-4, 3-2) has relied on its defense down the stretch to reach the postseason for the second straight season after finishing third in the Big West League. King is holding its opponents to an average of 19 points per game this season while junior Andrew Dixon leads the team with 5.6 tackles per game.

“They’re solid up front, I really like their defensive line,” Utupo said of King. “They can give us problems in protection if we’re not communicating pre-snap. They’re also sound in the secondary. We have to find ways to move the ball and keep our defense off the field as much as possible.”

This has been a roller coaster season for King with a few blowout wins and blowout losses. Last month, the Wolves shutout a pair of 4-6 teams in Corona (51-0) and Temecula Valley (30-0) before getting more than doubled up by Murrieta Mesa in the regular season finale, 31-14. However, they only lost to eventual league champion Great Oak 21-20 in late September.

The King offense has put up big numbers in league, but has struggled to run the ball consistently. Utupo said sophomore receiver Blake Bowen (1,000+ all-purpose yards, 10 TDs) stood out when he and his coaches watched game film.

Utupo thinks that Lakewood game film sends a clear message to any playoff opponent.

“We can score a lot of points with our weapons, on defense we’re really stingy when we swarm to the ball with 21 forced turnovers, and we have explosive playmakers on special teams with a good kicker,” Utupo said. “When (King) puts the film on I think they would agree that they’ll have to prepare for us in all three phases.”

“We have to stay together and make sure we’re all on the same page in practice and the game,” Baltazar added. “We can’t blame each other or take plays off. We have to stay aggressive.”

FEATURE: The Freewheelin’ Kade Casillas Finding Rhythm As Lakewood Quarterback
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.