West Linn football wins last-second thriller over Lakeridge 28-27
Let's be honest — with three minutes left in the game, the West Linn football team was dead in the water.
The fourth-ranked Lions, playing No. 5 Lakeridge at Lakeridge High School on Friday, Oct. 8, saw the Pacers score 13 straight points in the second half, build a six-point lead and intercept a West Linn pass with just 3 minutes, 23 seconds left to play.
But the Lions weren't done. Their defense forced a three-and-out and the West Linn offense followed with a heart-stopping 38-yard scoring drive to win the game, tying the score on a Nick Sakys-to-Gus Donnerberg touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining, then winning 28-27 on Gage Hurych's extra point.
"It's amazing," said Donnerberg, a sophomore who finished with three catches for 41 yards and the winning TD. "The middle of the field was open all game. We knew it was going to be there."
"This is the greatest moment in my life right now," said Sakys, a sophomore who completed 18 of 26 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions to win his first varsity start. "It's one of the biggest opportunities in my life and I'm so thankful that I took it."
With the win, the Lions bounced back from last week's disastrous loss to Tualatin and improved to 1-1 in Special District 5 play and 5-1 overall. Lakeridge, meanwhile, lost for the first time, saw its five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 1-1 in SD5 play and 5-1 overall.
"We were kind of riding that 5-0 wave, we needed someone to humble us and that's what happened," said Lakeridge senior linebacker Zac Waible, the Pacers' leading tackler. "Now we've just got to get into practice this week and bounce back."
"We are going to improve off this," added senior defensive back Zachary Larson, who picked off a Sakys pass deep in Pacer territory in the game's final minutes. "Sometimes, you've got to lose to get better. You've got to learn from your mistakes. (But) I was super proud of our team, the way we fought to the end."
The two teams traded punches in the opening quarter, with West Linn taking the game's first possession and driving 74 yards to score. Sakys went 7 of 8 passing for 64 yards on the drive — including a 24-yard completion to senior Lucas Reininga — then gave way to junior Earl Ingle for a 2-yard TD run out of the Wildcat formation.
Lakeridge answered with an 80-yard scoring drive that took just five plays and 2:30, with junior quarterback Ryan Oliver hitting sophomore wide receiver Joey Olsen for 48 yards and senior running back Jake Reichle doing the rest. Reichle carried the ball four times for 32 yards, including a 4-yard bash over the left side to tie the game 7-7 with 2:26 left in the quarter.
The Pacers' "D" stepped up next, with senior defensive back Dallas Kuenzi picking off a Sakys pass at the Lakeridge 27-yard line and returning it 73 yards for a TD and a 14-7 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
Undaunted, the Lions rallied to tie the game 14-14 just 1:25 later, getting two rushes for 28 yards from junior running back Ben Winjum, then back-to-back jolts from junior running back Koffi Kouame, the first for 18 yards and the second for 19 more and the touchdown.
The Pacers' ensuing possession ended when West Linn sophomore defensive back Gabe Howard picked off Oliver deep in Lion territory, and eight plays later, Sakys rolled right and hit senior Barret Brundage for a 24-yard TD and a 21-14 lead with 1:14 left before halftime.
Much of the second half, however, belonged to the Pacers. After a trade of punts to open the third quarter, Lakeridge marched 73 yards in six plays to score, with Oliver hitting Olsen for a 60-yard touchdown that tied the game at 21-21 with 5:34 remaining in the period.
Then, after back-to-back stops by the Lakeridge defense — the first on downs, the second when sophomore Tashi Crofut recovered Kouame's fumble on a kickoff — the Pacers tacked on a pair of field goals that gave them a 27-21 lead.
On the first of those, Lakeridge drove as far as the Lions' 13-yard line, then got a 30-yard field goal from sophomore Keaton Emmett. Then, after Crofut's fumble recovery at the West Linn 27, the Pacers advanced as far as the Lions' 8-yard line before settling for a 25-yard Emmett field goal and a 27-21 lead with 5:44 left on the clock.
Things got worse for the Lions before they got better, too. They advanced to the Pacer 40 after converting a fourth-down play, but saw Larson intercept a throw aimed for West Linn junior wide receiver Mark Hamper at the 6-yard line with 3:23 left to play.
Lakeridge couldn't move the ball, though, and Oliver punted it away to the 38. From there, Sakys hit Donnerberg for 17 yards on a third-and-17, connected with sophomore Ryan Vandenbrink for 19 yards to the Pacer 9 two plays later, and on third down, found Donnerberg in the center of the end zone for the game-winner.
"We never give up hope. We're just out there balling," Donnerberg said. "It means a ton. It's everything."
"I was nervous coming out here to try and lead everybody, but I was super excited," Sakys said. "It feels like a dream right now."
For their part, the Pacers knew how close they'd been to victory and a 6-0 record.
"We were a tackle or two away from winning that game," Larson said. "It just came down to a couple plays that we didn't make and they did."
The Lions, meanwhile, celebrated their return to the "W" column after falling 49-14 to Tualatin a week earlier.
"We were just going as hard as we could and we had some big plays at the end," said Winjum, who finished with 14 carries for 122 yards. "It was just an awesome win."
"This is so huge. This should push us forward and help us throughout the next few games," Ingle said. "It's huge. It just solidifies the team's offense and our confidence in (Sakys)."
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