It's been a season of ups and downs for the Lake Park and Metea Valley football squads, but both teams knew what would await the winner of their clash Friday night in Aurora: a 4-4 record and a chance to qualify for the playoffs with a win in Week 9.
Lake Park will have that opportunity as the Lancers overcame 3 turnovers in the game's first 16 minutes and a 14-0 deficit to post a 35-21 Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division defeat of the Mustangs. Now all Lake Park needs to complete an improbable rise from 1-4 to the state playoffs is a victory over Neuqua Valley (5-3) next Friday.
"It's gonna be a massive mountain at the end against Neuqua Valley, but it's high school football, and we're gonna be at home," said Lancers coach Chris Roll.
The game turned Lake Park's way on two different types of drives. After Metea (3-5, 1-5) had gone ahead 14-0 with eight minutes left in the first half courtesy of Cameron Wilcox's 1-yard plunge and Tre Mackey's 75-yard sprint, the Lancers (4-4, 2-3) answered with LaCurt Evans' 34-yard run and Zach Gehant's 63-yard scoring hookup with Scott Filip to knot the score three minutes before halftime.
With Metea looking to put together a half-ending scoring drive, Lake Park's Bogdan Gulyk turned the tables with an interception of Jarrett House, who was returning to quarterback the Mustangs after missing the previous month with a right-knee injury. The pick set the Lancers up at the Metea 47 and eight efficient plays and only 1:42 later, Evans plowed in from the 2-yard line for a 21-14 lead 11 seconds before the break.
"I knew we'd pull together," Evans said of the team's mindset in the face of the two-touchdown deficit. "We just had to concentrate on making big plays and taking care of our keys."
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter Mackey's 75-yard run for Metea that was answered by Evans' 5-yard sweep before the Lancers salted the game away with a 12-play, 86-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes of the waning fourth-quarter clock. Ronnie Castaldo did the honors from 5 yards out to wrap up the crucial victory.
While Lake Park sets its sights on a possible playoff berth next week, Metea will look to close its first varsity season on a high note in a UEC crossover game against visiting Elgin (1-7).
"When you turn the ball over it's never good, especially the one right before halftime and they scored," said Mustangs coach Ted Monken. "Then we had a couple turnovers from them but didn't do anything with them. We're not good enough yet overall to overcome mistakes like that."