West Linn made the first week of its 2017 football season look like a breeze.
On Friday, however, the Lions had to go to work.
"That was a good football game," said West Linn coach Chris Miller, whose team improved to 2-0 with the win. It was "two good football teams going toe-to-toe and they were obviously very excited to come up to our place and get out of that smoke and get another shot at us."
A year ago, the Lions sped past the Panthers 42-21 at Spiegelberg Stadium in Medford (a game South Medford later had to forfeit for use of an ineligible player). On Friday, there would be no such blowout.
The Lions struck first this time, getting an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ethan Long to tight end Keishon Dawkins for a 7-0 lead. The Panthers answered in-kind, getting a 75-yard scoring strike from Robbie Patterson to Jaalen Owens that tied the game at 7-7 after one quarter.
Then, after a scoreless second period, the two teams traded TDs again in the third frame. West Linn connected first, getting a 14-yard touchdown pass from Long to wide receiver Qawi Ntsasa, but again, South Medford had an answer.
This time, the Panthers knotted the score at 14-14 when Jaylin Parnell rushed for a one-yard touchdown with just 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining in the quarter.
That score set the table for the decisive fourth quarter, and there, the Lions held the upper hand. Ntsasa collected the game-winner, hauling in an 18-yard Long TD pass to make it 21-14 with 5:25 remaining and the Lions' "D" did the rest.
"They're a very senior-laden team so it was good competition and it was great for our guys in terms of building character and perseverance playing a tough hard-nosed football team," Miller said.
And for a team that features a bundle of new starters in prominent roles, Friday's win meant a lot.
"It's their time. It's their time under the Friday night lights to show what they're made of, show their talents, their skill sets and all the hard work they've put in," Miller said. "We still have a very talented group and they're going to keep getting better every week. The ceiling is very high with this group."
For the game, Long went 24 of 35 passing for 296 yards with one interception and three TDs, Dawson Jolley led Lions' rushers with 37 yards on six carries, and Ntsasa had 10 catches for 125 yards and two scores.
For South Medford (1-1 overall), Patterson completed 17 of 26 throws for 205 yards with one interception and one TD, Parnell paced Panther runners with 53 yards on 18 attempts, and Owens had five catches for 144 yards and one TD.
Next up, the Lions will move into Three Rivers League play with a 7 p.m. Friday game at Sherwood (1-1 after losing 34-12 to Camas, Washington, last week).
"That should be a good football game. That's a good team," Miller added. "It's a good rivalry and it's going to be another great Friday night."