West Linn defense makes a name for itself in 2017
For the first time in three years, the West Linn football team will not be part of the Class 6A state championship game picture.
That goal — winning the 2017 state title and defending the championship the Lions won a year ago — fell away at the end of West Linn's 24-21 loss to Tigard in Friday's quarterfinal game at Hillsboro Stadium.
But what the Lions did accomplish this year, what the program has accomplished over the past four years, is nothing short of incredible.
Consider this: Over the past four seasons, West Linn has won the ultra-competitive Three Rivers League once, finished second once, third twice and have put together a record of 23-5 in TRL play and 44-8 overall during that span.
And to the Lions' great credit, they stepped up to battle Tigard in a way they hadn't during the regular season, pushed the Tigers to the limit and matched the physical challenge that Tigard presented.
"The first time we played them, they kind of hit us in the mouth," said senior linebacker Taran Floyd. "They came out, they were aggressive and really gave it to us. We weren't as prepared. This time, we knew it was going to be a tough, physical game and we just had to come out with everything we could."
"That first game that we played them was a little rough," said senior defensive back Cody Fretwell. "But this game, we had a good week of practice, and coach really told us that we had to man up inside and bring it to them instead of getting hit."
"Coach really told us that we had to man up inside and bring it to them instead of getting hit."
— Cody Fretwell
The manner that West Linn responded on Friday, however, should have come as no surprise — it was consistent with the kind of defense the Lions played all year.
Indeed, among the state's 48 Class 6A football teams (excluding Glencoe and Benson — both played independent schedules this year), no unit has been better than West Linn's defense.
Over the course of the team's 12 games, the Lions allowed just 131 total points for an average of fewer than 11 points per game. Only South Medford (137 points in 12 games) and Sheldon (138 in 11 games) are close to the Lions, followed in the top-10 fewest points allowed by Clackamas (146 points in 12 games), Lake Oswego (153 in 12 games), West Salem (164 points in 12 games), Madison (169 points in 10 games), Tualatin (199 points in 11 games), Jesuit (210 points in 12 games) and Tigard (210 points in 12 games).
For a team that graduated 17 starters and 34 seniors from the 2016 state title team, West Linn's success points to the stability of the Lions' program and the promise of more success in the future.
This year's squad included the following all-league defensive players: first team — senior end Justin Babcock, senior tackle Vince Seth, Hamper, Floyd, senior cornerback Qawi Ntsasa and senior safety Zack Huffstutter; second team — Fretwell; and honorable mention — senior linemen Seth Bagley and Chris Comings, senior linebacker Tyler Good and junior linebacker Elijah Ntsasa.
As to the Lions themselves, they emphasized another important factor in their rise to the upper echelon of the state's teams — their close bond with each other.
"These kids have amazing character. I love playing with them," Fretwell said. "And all the people that came in — Ahmir (McGee), Luke (Hamper), Taran (Floyd), Neil (McCarthy) — I love them. They came in for this one season and they are part of the brotherhood."
"I wouldn't trade this team for anything. Being able to play my last year with them was really special," said senior linebacker Luke Hamper, who previously played at Jesuit. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was really special."
"This was my first time playing football for West Linn and it's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had," added Floyd, who transferred from Wilsonville a year earlier and played his first season of football with the Lions in 2017. "I love the team, love the coaches, love the program. It was amazing."