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Monkeys off their back

OC gridders beat LO, finish atop the TRL for the first time in 17 seasons


by: VERN UYETAKE - Oregon City sophomore running back Conner Mitchell (7) eludes tacklers in last Fridays 21-17 win at Lake Oswego. With the win, the Pioneers finished all alone, in first place, in a highly competitive Three River League.The Oregon City Pioneers last Friday continued on track for one of the best football seasons in school history, winning a 21-17 nailbiter at Lake Oswego.

The win gained the Pioneers (8-1, 4-1) the league title in one of the most competitive Class 6A football leagues in the state, their first league title since 1996, when Oregon City lost to Roseburg in the big-school state final.

It was the Pioneers’ first win over Lake Oswego since 1998. For the Lakers (3-6, 2-3), the loss ended a Three Rivers League league title win string at eight.

“It’s like walking on air,” said Oregon City senior co-captain Alex Canchola. “That Oregon City has not accomplished this in such a long time is unbelievable. Now people are going to be talking about the 2013 team instead of the 1996 team.... It’s a great feeling!”

“It’s a great feeling!” echoed Oregon City co-captain Clay Valenzuela-Reece. “It’s overwhelming. I still don’t believe it. It’s unreal. I knew we could do it, but now that we’ve actually done it and it’s soaking in, it feels pretty amazing!”

The TRL this season is without question the toughest Class 6A league in the state. Heading into postseason, Clackamas, Lakeridge, Oregon City, Canby and Lake Oswego are ranked sixth, ninth, tenth, twelfth and seventeenth respectively in the OSAA RPI rankings. Forty-two teams played football at the Class 6A level this fall.

Clackamas (7-2, 3-2) and Lakeridge (7-2, 3-2) ended up tied for second place in the TRL. The Cavaliers last Friday won 42-41 in overtime at Canby, while the Pacers won 28-20 at West Linn. Had Lake Oswego and Canby won on Friday, four teams would have tied for first place in the TRL, with 3-2 records.

Last week’s game at Lake Oswego was not decided until the closing seconds, and things looked grim for the Pioneers early on.

“I think we were [a little intimidated],” said Canchola. “We were pretty low [heading into the locker room at halftime]. Fortunately our coaches were able to get us pumped up. They ripped us pretty good and put a fire in our bellies....

“[In the second half] we came out more intense. Our team came together and started playing for one another.... We made that defensive stop and scored that touchdown [at the start of the second half], and we knew then that we could beat them.”

Oregon City trailed 14-0 at halftime and, when sophomore return specialist Trevon Bradford returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown with just 2:12 left to play, it put the Pioneers up 20-17, giving them their first lead of the game.

Bradford also starred on defense down the stretch, intercepting a Laker pass at the Oregon City 10-yard line inside the final minute of play to seal the win.

“Trevon’s a great athlete,” said Valenzuela-Reece. “He’s very talented. He’s going to be one of the best players in the state by the time he finishes high school, and he’s going to be a great college player. He knows the game and he plays hard.”

Oregon City began the turnaround early in the second half. The Lakers punted on their first possession of the third quarter and the punt took an Oregon City bounce, giving the Pioneers possession at the Lake Oswego 40.

Sophomore running back Conner Mitchell broke loose for a 39-yard run on Oregon City’s first play from scrimmage of the second half. And on the next play, Mitchell dashed one yard to the end zone to make it a 14-7 game.

The Pioneers then stopped a Lake Oswego sustained drive when Valenzuela-Reece pounced on a Laker fumble at the Oregon City 16.

Fourteen plays later, Mitchell scored on another one-yard run. Alex Canchola split the uprights with his second on-target PAT kick, and the game was a 14-14 standoff, with 33 seconds remaining in the third period.

Oregon City senior linebacker Austin Bjorkman claimed a Lake Oswego fumble at the Oregon City 25 early in the fourth quarter to halt another Laker drive.

The Lakers went on the march again later in the fourth quarter, but quarterback sacks by defensive linemen Zak Merwin and Josh Miller forced the Lakers to settle for Ethan Agritelley’s 34-yard field goal, and a 17-14 lead.

Bradford then returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to the end zone and made his pivotal late-game interception. And the Pioneers ran out the clock and celebrated the 21-17 victory, and their first league title in 17 years.

Lake Oswego scored twice in the second quarter: at the end of a 12-play, 74-yard drive, on an 11-yard pass from sophomore Mitchell Verburg to senior running back Craig Hodges; and at the end of a seven-play, 60-yard drive, on a 9-yard run by Hodges.

Lake Oswego junior defensive back John Olsen intercepted a pass in the end zone to halt an Oregon City scoring threat on the Pioneers’ first possession of the game.

The Pioneers’ only other scoring threat of the first half ended when Alex Canchola missed a 35-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

Lake Oswego ended up with a 335- to 310-yard edge in total offense.

Oregon City quarterback Jon Hall completed 16-of-24 passes for 191 yards, with two interceptions. Mitchell rushed 24 times for 112 yards.

Oregon City senior Matthew Oades hauled in seven passes for 108 yards.

For Lake Oswego, Verburg connected on 17-of-28 passes for 225 yards, with one interception. Hodges rushed 17 times for 71 yards; Jordan Horak had six receptions for 79 yards.

Oregon City now advances to a first round state playoff game against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. The Pioneers will host the game on Friday, Nov. 8.

“I’ve been around these kids for nine years and getting to watch them grow and offer some guidance now as their coach has been a real treat for me,” said Oregon City coach Bruce Reece.

Reece added, “As far as potential, this year it’s untapped. We haven’t played up to our potential yet, and the kids know that. You watch game film, and there are a lot of things they can do better....

“Down the road, over the next few years, there’s the possibility of doing great things. We’re 8-1 at all three levels [varsity, jayvee and freshmen] this year. That speaks well for our coaches and our program.”



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