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November 16, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
He knows. He totally knows.
Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes head coach Dave Miller, trying to stay even keel, doesn't dispute the importance of the Friday night showdown with Bellevue (Wash.) High.
"It is huge," he said. "We have been in the state equation for about 25 years; Bellevue has been big time nationally the last 10 years or so.
"This year we both have very high expectations so the game is getting a little more attention than normal."
A little more?
Video of Lakes vs. Enumclaw.
It is also the RivalsHigh National Game of the Week.
Miller isn't thinking about that type of stuff. He said he's got his team focused on just one thing: A state title.
"We are a team that has fourteen goals," Miller said. "We have achieved eleven of them right now.
"A lot of people are trying to say that this game is a de facto state finals game. That is pretty far from the truth if you ask me. Whichever team wins will likely be playing either Camas [(Wash.) High] or [Seattle (Wash.)] O'Dea for a state title - and neither of those two are games you can count as a win until they are over."
If he gets those three wins and completes his checklist, it will be one of the most successful seasons for Lakes in nearly 15 years.
"We won it in 1997 and were runners-up in 2000," Miller said. "And gosh we have been third a thousand other times. I don't think programs, players, and coaches can be judged on one game because whoever wins this has two more to win."
But whoever wins this would appear to have its toughest test out of the way.
"We know them well," Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff told the Seattle Times. "It's going to be fun."
Bellevue beat Lakes 35-7, in a semifinal last year.
This year, however, it appears to be a different Lakes team.
The roster is loaded with senior talent. Offensive tackle Zach Banner is a Rivals100 player. Playmaker Cedric Dozier is in the Rivals250. Ma'ne Manaea is back to full strength and Zaheer Webb has been disruptive on the defensive line.
This is not the same team that Bellevue beat last year.
Even with a more experienced and confident group, Miller maintains his team is the heavy underdog until it can prove otherwise.
"We have to actually win some of these game before we can start thinking we aren't the hunter," he said. "We have to play a great game. Assignment defense. Make tackles. Eliminate turnovers will all be key.
"What will be most important is to play all four quarters."
The complete football game is something Lakes did not do in last year's loss.
It can be argued that for three quarters the play was relatively even and that the final score was a little deceptive. What cannot be argued is what turned the game.
"We have three turnovers in one quarter," Miller said with a sigh. "It was the difference and they are such a great, fundamentally sound team, that if you give them extra chances they will make you pay."
This year, the game plan has not changed much for either team.
Bellevue will play its typical defense. It will make tackles and keep the ball in front of it.
Video of Bellevue vs. Glacier Peak.
An offense that Goncharoff told RivalsHigh earlier this year grows as a bigger weapon the more teams shift to a more aerial attack.
"Everyone wants to run the spread now," he said then. "So the older this offense gets, the better it is for us."
Goncharoff added that the system keeps his players interested even if they don't see it being played on Saturday or Sunday. "
It is actually fun for them," he said. "Our linemen love it. They get to earhole defenders so much and get to run and be active. Plus we win."
It is the latter that Miller hopes to change.
"We will have to ignore the window dressing that comes with that style of play," he said. "We have to play defense and we have to be balanced on offense.
"Both of these teams are talented; both worked hard to get here. Only one of us gets to keep it going."
Both coaches know that.