Trailing 42-21 in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers scored twice and had the ball with a chance to tie with 3:30 to play Thursday

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Oregon City's Teron Bradford (with ball) finds running room on the left side, scoring on a 5-yard run in the third quarter of Thursday's home game against Central Catholic.The Oregon City Pioneers dug a hole in the first half that was too deep to climb out of Thursday night.

Central Catholic's Cade Knighton passed for 217 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Korbin Williams, leading the Rams to a 42-35 Mt. Hood Conference road win the Pioneers at Oregon City's Pioneer Memorial Stadium.

The Rams capitalized on three Oregon City fumbles in the second quarter to open to 28-7 halftime lead, and then withstood a furious second-half comeback by the Pioneers, who had the ball trailing by a touchdown with 3:30 to play.

Facing fourth-and-2 at the Central Catholic 49-yard line, the Pioneers gave the ball to Zakayas Dennis-Lee, who got stopped for no gain with 1:59 remaining in the game.

Any hopes the Pioneers had of getting the ball back ended when Central Catholic's Miles Jackson rushed for 11 yards to convert a third-and-6 situation, giving the Rams a first down at the Oregon City 35 with less than a minute to play.

After that, all that was left was for Knighton to take a knee and then hand the game ball to Rams coach Steve Pyne in recognition of his 150th career win.

"I told them before the game, 'I don't ask a lot from you guys, but I'd love to get my 150th tonight,'" Pyne said. "I'm proud of the way we're progressing, but we still have a long way to go to be in the conversation at the end of the year."

Elijah Elliott, Silas Starr and Jackson also scored touchdowns for Central Catholic as the Rams (5-2, 4-1 Mt. Hood) snapped Oregon City's five-game win streak and pulled even with the Pioneers (5-2, 4-1), both one game back of league-leading Clackamas with two games left in the regular season.

"It was a big win for this week," Pyne said. "We can only control what we control going forward and see what happens."

Oregon City coach Dustin Janz found the loss hard to swallow, but praised the Pioneers for climbing back into the game despite trailing by three touchdown on three different occasions -- the last time at 42-21 with 3:58 to play in the third quarter.

"What that tells me is that we're relentless, we're tough, and we don't give up," Janz said. "I talked to the kids at halftime about just responding, and I didn't really care about anything but their response. I just wanted to see them play hard and fight."

After Central Catholic punted early in the fourth quarter, the Pioneers went on a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive that ended with Austin Bonner throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Teron Bradford, cutting the Rams' lead to 42-28 with 7:45 to play.

The Rams then had a first down at their own 46 when Oregon City's Jayden Shaffer scored on a 55-yard interception return, pulling the Pioneers within 42-35 with 6:26 remaining.

Turning point

Central Catholic's next possession ended when the Rams failing to convert on fourth-and-2 from the Oregon City 43, giving the ball back to the Pioneers at that spot with 3:30 to play.

The Pioneers ran the ball three times and gained eight yards, and then called timeout with 2:09 remaining to set up the pivotal fourth-and-2 play from the Rams' 49.

The call was for Dennis-Lee to get the ball on an inside handoff, running into the right side of the line behind right guard Zach Zumwalt and right tackle Brock Duyck, with tight ends Mason Olsen and Sebastian Hyskell adding support.

"It was just an inside power play," Janz said. "We had four guys at the point of attack. I think Zee missed the hole a little bit. I think we cut back too far and didn't run in the soft spot that was there.

"We'll have to see on film but form my vantage point, it looked as if he fell forward for the first down, but they didn't give it to us, and that's just part of the game sometimes."

Did the Pioneers give any consideration to running the ball outside or throwing a pass in that situation?

"We thought about that, but Zee Lee is one of our best football players and we've got a heckuva offensive line," Janz said. "I trust those guys to get two yards anytime I call a play. It doesn't really matter what we call, I expect us to get two yards.

"I mean, we're averaging something like 13 yards a carry on the season. Two yards shouldn't be a problem. We had an opportunity. It was there and we just missed it. It happens."

Rams' senior linebacker Malakai Salu said the defense was keying on the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Dennis-Lee.

"Big plays like that, they're going to give the ball to their playmakers, so we knew they were going to give Zakayas the ball," Salu said. "We knew they were going to go right up the gut. We had to stuff it, and that's what we did.

"That was the game right there. That stop was it."

Ball security

Bonner, Oregon City's senior quarterback, said the game probably would have played out differently if the Pioneers had done a better job of holding onto the ball in the second quarter.

"It was those turnovers that killed us," Bonner said. "The first half, we were moving just fine. We had only three plays that were negative where we just couldn't take care of the ball."

Trailing 14-7, the Pioneers fumbled the ball away three times in the final 7:12 of the first half.

One of the three Central Catholic drives that followed ended with 26-yard field goal attempt bouncing off the right upright, but the other two ended with touchdown passes -- Knighton first throwing 38 yards to Starr and then throwing 14 yards to Williams to push the Rams' lead to 28-7.

"It was a disappointing loss," said Bonner, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. "We started off slow, and if we would have played the entire game the way we played the second half, who knows?"

The heavy rain that fell during the first quarter may have contributed to some of Oregon City's ball control issues, although Janz said the main reasons the Pioneers struggled to maintain possession in the second quarter was because of the way Central Catholic defense went after the ball.

"We weren't very secure with the ball in traffic," Janz said. "The last turnover, we made a perfect read, but we made it a split-second too late, so their guy got a hand in there just right and knocked it out. That was just a lucky deal -- right place at the right time -- but we put our defense in a bad position when we give that offense a short field."

Dennis-Lee finished with 68 yards on seven carries, Ethan Kassebaum added another 68 yards on 17 carries, and Bonner had 58 yards on 16 carries.

Bradford was the Pioneer's top receiver with nine catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored on a 5-yard run in the third quarter.

The Pioneers go on the road next week to face league-leading Clackamas (7-0, 5-0) in a 7 p.m. game Friday, while Central Catholic takes on last-place David Douglas (0-7, 0-5) at Hillsboro Stadium.

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