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Indians defense forces four turnovers in second half of Class 4A Special Distrcit 1 victory

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Molalla senior Afanasy Kutsev returns an interception in the fourth quarter of the Indians 13-7 victory over Tillamook Friday night.

Molalla leaned on its defense to earn its first win of the season on homecoming night.

Forcing four turnovers and shutting out Tillamook in the second half, the Indians won 13-7 Friday in the Class 4A Special District 1 matchup.

"It's great to get this team a win, for sure," Molalla senior linebacker and running back Damian Pingo said. "Our defense was running on all cylinders tonight. We knew what to do. We knew how to stop them and we executed. It was our best night, for sure. It was nice to see us all play as a team. We've been playing as individuals lately."

Tied 7-7 at halftime, Pingo gave Molalla the ball inside the Tillamook 40-yard line on an interception with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter.

After Max Tate took a reverse 14 yards to the 3-yard line, quarterback Isaac Thomas-Klementis then connected with Afanasy Kutsev for the game-winning touchdown with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter.

"I was just wide open," Kutsev said. "It wasn't really hard."

The Cheesemakers returned the following kickoff to midfield, but fumbled on their first play, and Molalla recovered.

After the Indians punted, Tillamook drove into Molalla territory, but Kutsev intercepted Cheesemakers quarterback Chad Werner on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"I just went up for a play and got it to help my team win," Kutsev said. "It felt amazing."

With 3:16 remaining in the game, Tillamook marched into Molalla's side of the field, but again coughed up the football.

"That's what I expect," Molalla coach Sean McElhaney said of the Indians defense. "Before the third turnover, I told them I want the ball back right now and they got the ball back. That's what I want to see from the kids."

Picking up a first down on a 12-yard pass from Thomas-Klementis to Jacob Nix, Molalla was nearly able to run out the clock.

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Max Tate carries the ball in the third quarter Friday against Tillamook.

"They have a couple of pretty big kids," McElhaney said of Tillamook's defense. "No. 74 (Perry Reeder), he's a real monster inside. They were able to take some things away that we wanted to do, but we got enough offense to be able to win the game."

The Indians punted with 10 seconds remaining in the game, and after one Tillamook incomplete pass, Molalla celebrated its first win of the season.

"We started slower than we thought," Pingo said. "We have a big senior class and we thought we were going to do well this year. It hasn't gone our way. We've had mistakes killing us every game, but tonight we pulled it together and played a good game all-around.Now that we know we can win, we shouldn't lose any more games. We have a tough schedule ahead of us."

Molalla hosts Seaside (2-3) next Friday and then travels to Astoria (0-5) on Oct. 18. Waiting in the final week of the season is undefeated Banks.

"I think both of the next two games are winnable, just like I thought this game was winnable, like a couple of our other games were winnable," McElhaney said. "The key is to just keep fighting one week at a time. We needed this for the confidence."

Derek Wiley
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