Oregon City improves to 4-0 for its best start in seventeen seasons

The Oregon City Pioneers gained a few believers Friday night as they knocked off eighth-ranked Lakeridge 31-21 in an intensely played, highly charged high school football game at Pioneer JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon City linebacker Kiahve Dennis-Lee (20) says not on my watch as he breaks up a pass to Lakeridge star receiver J.R. McLaughlin in last Fridays 31-21 win over Lakeridge.

The win put the Pioneers at 4-0 on the season (1-0 in the Three Rivers League), giving them their best start since 1996, when an Oregon City team coached by Ed Burton went 12-0, before losing to Roseburg 16-7 in the big-school state final.

It was the first loss of the season for Lakeridge (3-1, 0-1), which had won big in three previous games, defeating Reynolds 35-18, Centennial 58-21 and North Salem 48-7.

“This is huge for me!” said Oregon City senior co-captain Zak Merwin. “It’s huge for the team. We haven’t gone 4-0 in I don’t know how long. It’s been a long, long time. Nobody thought we could do it with the adversity we’ve had. I’m lov’n it. It feels great!”

“This means a lot!” said Oregon City sophomore running back Trevon Bradford. “The pregame [online] predictions had nine people against Oregon City and only two for us. It’s nice that we can come out and prove people wrong. No one thought we could do it after we lost our coach. But we’ve come out and proven people wrong.”

The Pioneers have a chance to make more history this Friday, when they play Canby on the road. The Cougars (2-2, 0-0), who manhandled Lincoln 49-24 last Friday, have not lost a varsity football game to Oregon City since 1991.

“It’s just another game on our schedule,” said Oregon City senior Matthew Oades. “Our job’s to just take care of ourselves and do what we do. If we do that, the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Last Friday’s 31-21 win was no fluke. The Pioneers scored on their first two possession and led the rest of the way.

Lakeridge junior Eric Dungey, who has been heralded as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the state, had his moments. The 6-4, 195-pound man-child completed 23-of-38 passes for 372 yards, and he rushed 30 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

But the Pioneer defense toughened up when it counted and Dungey did not compete a single touchdown pass.

“I think defense [was the key to winning the game],” said Oades. “Our defense played hard the entire game. They didn’t take a play off.”

The Pacers also hurt their own cause through uncontrolled emotions. They were penalized 19 times for 214 yards, with 12 of the penalties personal fouls. Dungey was dinged twice for hurdling wood-be tacklers, which is not permitted in high school-level play.

Oregon City senior defensive back Clay Valenzuela-Reece was quick to let the Pacers know they were in for a game as he picked off a Dungey pass on the seventh play of the game.

Five plays later, Oregon City senior quarterback Jon Hall capped off a 72-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Oades.

Oregon City defenders forced the Pacers to punt on their next possession.

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon City defensive tackle D.J. Vandervort (66) teams up with Pioneer linebacker Jake Yoshimura to sack Lakeridge quarterback Eric Dungey in last Fridays showdown with the Pacers.The Pioneers took over at their own 36 and, on their second play, Jon Hall hit Bradford in stride 35 yards down field, and Bradford did the rest, turning the aerial into a 63-yard touchdown pass play.

Alex Canchola split the uprights for his second PAT, and Oregon City led 14-0 with three minutes remaining in the opening period.

Lakeridge got two touchdowns back in the second quarter, with Dungey capping off an 80-yard drive with a four-yard sprint to the end zone; and junior Tonga Tokelau scoring on one-yard dive, at the end of an eight-play, 67-yard drive.

Oregon City defender D.J. Vandervort blocked the PAT after the second score and Oregon City maintained the lead, at 14-13.

Canchola added a 33-yard field goal at the end of a 12-play drive late in the second quarter, putting Oregon City up 17-13 at the half.

The Pioneers then took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring on their first two possessions of the second half.

The first touchdown was set up by a 31-yard pass play from Mitchell to Bradford on a fake punt. Oades did the honors, hauling in an 18-yard pass from Hall for the touchdown.

Following a Pacer turnover on downs, the Pioneers upped their lead to 31-13 on an eight-play, 55-yard drive. Hall danced three yards to the end zone untouched for the touchdown.

Lakeridge struck quickly on its next possession. Dungey scored on a one-yard run and then passed to Joe Sindlinger for the two-point conversion to make it 31-21 Oregon City with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter.

But that was the Pacers’ last hurrah, as officials’ handkerchiefs were flying as often as the football in the ensuing play.

At one point late in the fourth quarter the Pacers had first-and-goal at the Oregon City 9-yard line. But several penalties later, they were faced with fourth-and-goal at the 50-yard line.

Vandervort, Kiahve Dennis-Lee, Jake Yoshimura and Conner Mitchell all made big defensive stops down the stretch, as two Oregon City fourth-quarter fumbles kept the Pacer comeback hopes alive.

Lakeridge finished with a 537- to 352-yard edge in total offense on the night.

J.R. McLaughlin was Dungey’s main target. The 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver hauled in nine passes for 239 yards.

Hall connected on 10-of-14 attempted passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Bradford (3 receptions, 96 yards) and Oades (7 receptions, 71 yards) were his top receivers.

Mitchell rushed 27 times for 178 yards, but the Pacers kept him out of the end zone.

Linebackers Dennis-Lee and Austin Bjorkman were Oregon City’s leading tacklers, Dennis-Lee with 11 tackles and Bjorkman with nine.

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