Oregon City remains in the thick of things in the TRL title chase heading into this Fridays game at Clackamas

by: VERN UYETAKE - Oregon City sophomore running back Conner Mitchell (7) carried much of the load in last weeks game with West Linn, rushing 40 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 Pioneer victory.The Oregon City Pioneers learned last Thursday how important it is to play a complete game, as they built an early lead and then held off cross-river rival West Linn for a 31-28 victory in a key Three Rivers League football match-up.

Leading 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter, the Pioneers let the Lions back in it, giving up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

West Linn senior quarterback Hayden Coppedge completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to 5-10 freshman Elijah Molden to close the gap to three points, at 31-28, with 3:34 remaining.

The Lions forced a punt on Oregon City’s next possession, and the Lions were back in business. Oregon City senior defensive back Clay Valenzuela-Reece saved the day, stepping in front of a wayward aerial at the Oregon City 44.

The Pioneers punted again. But time ran out on the Lions, who were at the Oregon City 20-yard line — with no timeouts remaining — when the game ended.

The game was a battle in the early going. Oregon City scored first, capping off a 77-yard, 13-play drive on their first possession with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jon Hall to Hunter Knighton.

West Linn answered on its next possession, marching 71 yards in 13 plays. Cam Schmitz did the honors, hauling in a 2-yard pass from Coppedge for the touchdown. The on-target PAT kick made it a 7-7 tie.

But Oregon City owned the play through the remainder of the first half.

Junior Tristan Birge returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the West Linn 15; and Alex Canchola split the uprights for a 20-yard field goal and a 10-7 Pioneer lead.

Penalties and Oregon City’s defense put the Lions with their backs to the wall near their own goal line on their next possession. And a West Linn punt took an Oregon City bounce, giving the Pioneers the ball at the West Linn 31.

Three plays latter, sophomore running back Conner Mitchell dashed 11 yards to the end zone, upping Oregon City’s advantage to 17-7.

Valenzuela-Reece picked off a pass near the midfield stripe with five minutes remaining in the first half. And a few plays later, Mitchell broke loose on a 43-yard touchdown sprint. And the Pioneers appeared in command, leading 24-7 at the halftime break.

The Pioneers turned more conservative in the second half and neither team scored in the third period.

Junior running back Chance Mazzia gained the Lions renewed hope when he scored on a short run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Mitchell answered, scoring at the end of a 65-yard, 11-play drive, putting the Pioneers back in the driver’s seat, with a 31-14 lead.

But Dean Swanson changed the momentum when he returned the ensuring kickoff 91 yards to the end zone, trimming Oregon City’s lead to 31-21.

The Pioneers were fortunate that the Lions were without their top running back, Louie Germaine, who missed the game for an undisclosed reason.

Coppedge had a big night, completing 25-31 passes for 352 yards. But the Lions netted only 30 yards on the ground.

Mitchell was a workhorse for Oregon City, rushing 40 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

Hall found receivers on 10-of-19 passes, for 126 yards.

The Pioneers earned only a 386- to 382-yard edge in net offense on the night.

The win was big for Oregon City, because it kept the Pioneers in contention for the Three Rivers League title.

Oregon City (6-1, 2-1) was tied with Clackamas (6-1, 2-1) and Lake Oswego (3-4, 2-1), in first place in the TRL standings, heading into this Friday’s game at Clackamas. Lake Oswego dealt Clackamas its first loss of the season, winning 42-18, in a game played last week at Clackamas.

The win over West Linn was also important for the Pioneers because of their longstanding rivalry with the Lions. Oregon City now holds a 50-42-1 advantage in the 93-year-old rivalry, which is heralded as the longest uninterrupted high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi.

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