By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — The Lakin nay-sayers back in August borrowed their mantra for the season from Dante: "Abandon hope."
Fortunately, the team itself subscribed to a different tenet, riding team play and cohesiveness the latter part of the season, good enough for a Class 3A district title that they clinched on their home field Thursday night, blanking Southwestern Heights 22-0.
With enough tie-breaker scenarios to confuse even Las Vegas oddsmakers, Lakin decided to keep it simple and just win the district outright.
The win means they move on in the playoffs Tuesday, when they will host Norton in a playoff rematch from last year. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
They let their intentions be known on their very first drive of the night, a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by Alex Saenz's one-yard plunge up the middle and Evan Holmes' two-point conversion run to take an 8-0 lead.
Their next score came when Alex Jones turned a broken play into a bobbing and weaving 12-yard run in the second quarter to stretch the lead to 14-0.
And just to add some "ice"-ing to the cake, Saenz hit another short touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and the shutout was complete.
And the nay-sayers found themselves at a loss for words.
"At the beginning of the season, people were telling us we'd only win two games all season, and now we're district champions," an ecstatic Saenz said after the game.
Coach Ken Waechter, hoarse but happy after the win, had nothing but praise for his team, especially given the conditions.
"I told them before the game, the weather's going to be a factor. Defense has to make the plays. The ball's going to squirt out, so let's make it squirt our way and get the ball," he said.
He couldn't have been more prescient. On Heights' first series, a bad snap on the punt gave Lakin the ball at the Mustangs' 38-yard line. Heights lost four fumbles in the second quarter and threw two interceptions in the second half. Lakin fumbled four times and lost three of them.
"Because the weather was bad, we anticipated there'd be a lot of turnovers, and there was," Waechter said. "We felt that because of that, the defense needed to step up and make the plays and recover the ball and get us good field position. That's basically what happened. It got us some quick scores early and then we hung on."
Quarterback Dylan Shalberg was 0-5 on passes, but throwing the ball wasn't the focus of their game plan because of the cold, wind, and sleet.
"It was definitely tough," he said. "The ball was really slick. It was hard to get your footing. It was hard to throw the ball, but luckily we pounded it with the run game."
Senior Zach Reed led the Lakin defense. He said the team came out from the start wanting to win and not to get involved in a tie-breaker situation.
"We were thinking we can't overlook these guys," Reed said. "We had to stay focused and bring that district title back to Lakin for the first time in four years. It means so much; it's awesome."
Reed said they knew Heights (4-5, 1-2) would throw the ball a lot, and they did — 30 times, in fact.
"But the weather hampered them a bit and that played to our advantage," he said. "Our defense can bend a little bit, but we don't ever break."
Beating Holcomb 9-0 last week and the shutout Thursday will give the Broncs (6-3, 3-0) a huge boost going into Tuesday.
"Two shutouts in a row is a big confidence going into next week," Reed said. "We have to stay focused. It's going to be another tight battle against them (Norton)."
Waechter was proud of his team's title, especially with how the season started.
"We've improved," he said. "We weren't very good at the first of the year. All of our ends were young. All of our linebackers moved to new spots. We also drew Scott City and Hugoton, two of the toughest schools in the area, and we looked fairly poor. It was hard to stay focused and fight through and keep our confidence that we could come back. But we did. I'm very proud of these kids."
When Norton comes to town Tuesday, Waechter said he knows his team is in for a battle.
"They're a great team. We're going to have play really well to beat them," he said. "These kids want to play them. Instead of just 'showing up,' they want to play them. They want the game."
And a message for the nay-sayers?
"The only ones who had faith in us was ourselves," Shalberg said. "We've got to keep that faith in ourselves and show everyone we can win a playoff game next."
Lakin 22, Southwestern Heights 0
Heights 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Lakin 8 6 0 8 -- 22
L — Saenz 1 run (Holmes run)
L — Jones 12 run (pass failed)
L — Saenz 2 run (Shalberg to Reed)
Rushing — Heights, Chavez 7-40, Justice 15-18, Flores 8-15; Lakin, Jones 16-122, Holmes 15-77, Saenz 3-5.
Passing — Heights, Winfrey 15-30-2-190; Lakin, Shalberg 0-5-0-0.
Receiving — Heights, Chavez 3-59, Johnsrud 4-55, Flores 6-51, Justie 2-35.