One way or another, it was bound to be one of those games a team remembers all season. The margin between those memories being devastating or inspirational was razor-thin, as Lakewood came within inches of losing its nonleague season opener to the Crenshaw Cougars Friday night, before managing to pull out an exciting victory.
The game started at a feverish pace, with the Lancers and Cougars tied at 14 after the first quarter. Then Crenshaw took over, offensively and defensively, outscoring Lakewood 14-0 to take a commanding 28-14 lead into halftime. The defense was especially commanding, forcing Lakewood into three consecutive three-and-outs. The packed home crowd was getting nervous—this wasn’t supposed to be a blowout, but it wasn’t supposed to be this hard, either. Lakewood coach Thadd MacNeal didn’t have many answers for his team’s second-quarter collapse. “They just did a great job of taking us out of our rhythm,” he said.
Judging from the second half, MacNeal must have had his team listening to the same song in the locker room, because the Lancers came out with the kind of intensity they’re known for. The defense especially soared, with star linebacker Trevor Erno flying around smacking people, and firing up his sideline after every hit. Erno was pumped even for him, and that’s saying something. With the defense clamping down—they only allowed 6 points in the second half—the offense went back to work, with junior quarterback Jesse Scroggins coming to life.
Scroggins threw three of his four TDs in the second half, on his way to an impressive opening night, completing more than 65% of his passes. After a few gutty stands by the defense and some hard-earned success on the other side of the ball, Scroggins finally completed a game-tying touchdown to Chris Davis, to knot the score at 28. Lakewood finally had momentum on their side.
But momentum is no match for speed. Crenshaw WR DeAnthony Thomas (who runs something like a 10.3 100m) took a swing pass from QB Marquis Thompson on the first play of the Cougars’ drive, turned a corner, and ran 78 yards to the end zone virtually untouched. The Cougars went back up by six just 27 seconds after the Lancers had scrapped their way back into the game. The breath went out of the stadium. But the defense came up big once more, overwhelming the hefty Crenshaw line to block the extra point, holding the Cougars within six, with under seven minutes to go in the game.
The Lancers’ chances of a comeback didn’t look good at first, as they fumbled on the kickoff return, and on the first play of the drive—luckily, they recovered both times. Then they marched down the field seven yards at a time, Scroggins showing the kind of patience and maturity one might expect from an experienced college QB—he capped the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tofi Tiedemann (who finished the night with five catches and 109 yards). Lakewood drilled the extra point with a little more than four minutes on the clock, taking the lead by one. Given the ease with which Crenshaw scored, nobody relaxed, even after the Cougars turned the ball over on the ensuing kickoff, leading to another Lakewood score. No, this was the kind of game that wouldn’t let you relax until the final tenth of a second had ticked off the scoreboard. When it did, Lakewood had secured a hard-fought, impressive 42-34 victory over last year’s CIF City Section semifinalists.
Coach MacNeal, looking relieved and jubilant after the win, was proud of how his team stuck with it after the game. “I liked the way our kids responded,” he said. “We didn’t go into panic mode.” He also praised the poise of his young QB, as well as his new running back, Jerry Stone, who performed well despite struggling all game with cramps. Scroggins was happy but unsurprised, as well, giving credit to his defense. He attributed the team’s resolve late in the game to the Lancers’ nature. “We’re a second half team,” he said. “We just have to learn to execute in all four quarters.” If they can, they’re going to be scary. As it is, this game was a rollercoaster, but it’s the kind of game that memories are made of—the good ones, I mean.