Zakayas Dennis-Lee and Ethan Kassebaum rushed for a combined 346 yards and five TDs as Pioneers win fourth straight

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Oregon City's Zakayas Dennis-Lee (8) follows center Kale Sorenson (74) into the end zone from a yard out in Friday's Mt. Hood Conference game at Gresham.GRESHAM -- One big play was all Oregon City needed to set its high-powered offense in motion against Gresham on Friday night.

Quarterback Austin Bonner got it started with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Austin Canchola on the first play of the second quarter, more big plays followed, and the Pioneers rolled to a 51-8 Mt. Hood Conference blowout win over the previously unbeaten Gophers.

Oregon City running backs Zakayas Dennis-Lee and Ethan Kassebaum finished with a combined 346 yards rushing and five touchdowns as the Pioneers (4-1, 3-0 Mt. Hood) kept pace with Clackamas atop the league standings.

Gresham fell to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in league.

"That was a big win for us, a big stepping stone," Bonner said. "The offensive line did a really good job tonight, giving our running backs room to run. It was a really fun night."

Oregon City finished with 552 yards total offense, and it wasn't as if the Pioneers nibbled at the Gresham defense with a bunch of long, time-consuming drives. Once the Pioneers found their rhythm, they tore off yardage in big bits, racking up 20 plays that went for at least 10 yards each, including nine that covered 20 or more yards.

"That's how we do it," Dennis-Lee said. "We're a big-play offense. We're not a drive-down-the-field team. We've got so many different weapons coming from so many different directions, and every play is a chance for a big play."

Gresham had one big play – Lucas Rhinevault's 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter after the game was already out of reach.

Aside from that, the only player for the Gophers who stood out was junior punter Connor Henkle, who punted nine times and averaged 37 yards a kick.

"Oregon City has some skill kids who are really good, and we knew if they got out in space that it would be a long night for us," Gophers coach Mike Melton said. "The first quarter and a half, we did a pretty good job but then we couldn't get anything going on offense, which put our defense on the field.

"The kids got tired, and then we started getting caught in space, and then it was just Katie bar the door at that point and the game opened up."

There was no scoring in the first quarter, in part because the Gophers came out in a different defensive alignment than they had played in their previous three games, and it took Oregon City's offense a couple of possessions to make the necessary adjustments.

"We practiced all week against a different defensive front, and Gresham came out with a different look than what we expected," Bonner said. "It took us a couple series to get going, but once we adjsuted, we were pretty good."

Facing third-and-16 to start the second quarter, Bonner threw a pass over the middle to a wide-open Canchola, who got a downfield block from Teron Bradford as he raced 66 yards for the game's first score.

"We call that play 'Gopher Right,'" Oregon City coach Dustin Janz said. "We put it in this week, just for this game. We had anticipated Gresham double-covering Teron, so we thought we'd be able to get Canchola in a mismatch if they left the middle of the field empty.

"Bonner did a good job holding his feet and making a throw, because we didn't protect it perfect and he did get hit, and then Canchola made a great play out it for us."

Oregon City's next drive covered 73 yards in eight plays, and ended with Dennis-Lee scampering 46 yards straight up the middle.

The next drive ended with a Wyatt Lovell 24-yard field goal.

And the drive after that started with a 26-yard pass, followed by a 20-yard run, followed by a 13-yard run, followed by a Dennis-Lee 1-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 24-0 with 1:10 left in the half.

"We quit being cute and just started running the darn football," Janz said. "It made Gresham have to load the box, and then we were able to get our passing game off."

Oregon City scored on each of its first three possessions of the second half, and then the Pioneers' defense showed some big-play capabilities when free safety Jayden Shaffer scored on a 41-yard interception return that made it 51-0.

Gresham averaged 34.7 points a game in consecutive wins over Roseburg, David Douglas, and Centennial, but struggled to move the ball against Oregon City.

The Gophers' seven first-half possessions netted 120 yards and four first downs, and they trailed 37-0 with 7:47 to play in the third quarter before they crossed midfield for the first time when Rhinevault caught an 8-yard pass from quarterback Jake Biesterfeld.

Gresham finished with 209 yards total offense. And of the Gophers' 47 offensive plays, only three went for more than nine yards.

"A lot of that is Oregon City's guys up front are kind of big and rugged, and we had a tough time getting any kind of movement, because we're a little bit small up front," Melton said. "It became a bit of a size issue for us, but I'm not sure it was anything special that Oregon City was doing up front. They're just a pretty good football team."

Rhinevault led the Gophers with 10 carries for 115 yards, while Biesterfeld completed 12 of 22 passes for 41 yards and one interception that was returned for a touchdown.

"I felt like our kids were ready and wanted to compete, but at some point in time, Oregon City's guys were better than our guys," Melton said. "At this point, I'm not worried about anything but us and just getting better. Show up on Monday, and let's get better."

Kassebaum led Oregon City with 176 yards on 14 carries, and Dennis-Lee had 170 yards on 12 carries, running behind an offensive line – left tackle Isaiah Cook, left guard Jacob Phillips, center Kale Sorenson, right guard Zach Zumwalt, and right tackle Brock Duyck – that has shown improvement with each passing week.

Bonner completed 7 of 13 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Bradford had four catches for 59 yards, and Canchola caught two for 75.

"When you have a couple good players, it makes it easy," Janz said. "It's nothing I do. It's all those kids.

"If we can stay healthy and our kids continue to develop, and if our offense can start a little faster and our defense can keeping palying the way we're playing, I think we can compete."

Oregon City, which climbed to No. 9 in the latest OSAA power rankings, goes back on the road this week to face Barlow, while Gresham is scheduled to play at No. 5 Clackamas.

OREGON CITY 0 24 20 7 -- 51

GRESHAM 0 0 0 8 -- 8

OC – Austin Canchola 66 pass from Austin Bonner (Wyatt Lovell kick)

OC – Zakayas Dennis-Lee 46 run (Ethan Kassebaum run)

OC – Lovell 24 FG

OC – Dennis-Lee 1 run (run failed)

OC – Kassebaum 2 run (pass failed)

OC – Dennis-Lee 43 run (Lovell kick)

OC – Kassebaum 54 run (Lovell kick)

OC – Jayden Shaffer 41 interception return (Lovell kick)

G – Lucan Rhinevault 68 run (Levi O'Connell pass from Luke Melton)

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