Strong finish keeps Lions' state hopes alive
FOREST GROVE — By blanking Forest Grove in the second half on Oct. 19, the St. Helens Lions earned the opportunity to play a district playoff football game at home.
The Lions scored the last three touchdowns at Forest Grove High to beat the host Vikings, 41-21.
The win gave St. Helens third place in the West Division of the Oregon School Activities Association's new Class 5A Special District 1 for football.
The Lions finished the regular season 4-4 overall and 3-3 in league games. They earned third in the division based on their head-to-head win over Forest Grove (5-3, 3-3).
Next for St. Helens is a home game against Parkrose at 7 p.m. on Friday. The winner will qualify for the 16-team state playoffs.
Forest Grove, the fourth-place team in the division, travels to Hood River for its district playoff game.
Senior Chris Beatty caught a pair of touchdown passes to separate St. Helens from Forest Grove.
The most impactful of those was a 41-yard catch and run 13 seconds before halftime. It gave the Lions a 28-22 lead. Sophomore quarterback Jakob Robbins pitched the ball to senior Lane Clift. Clift then found Beatty open in the middle of the field for the go-ahead score.
It was a play offensive coordinator Jared Phillips put into his game plan last week. Clift, who played quarterback at the start of the season, got the ball to Beatty.
St. Helens appeared ready to take early control of the game.
Senior Isaiah Bettencourt ran 70 yards for the first touchdown of the game, then senior QB Leif Nelson capped a scoring drive with a 1-yard scoring run in the final minute of the first quarter.
St. Helens coach Cory Young said he was expecting a solid start from his team.
"Before the game, there was a quiet confidence to them," the coach said. "They were just very, very focused, like I haven't seen them so far this year, and they showed that when we started off the game."
An 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Anthony Knott gave Forest Grove life, however.
St. Helens responded with another touchdown drive, this one capped by a 5-yard Nelson run.
But Forest Grove quarterback Jarod Miller threw touchdown passes on the next two Vikings possessions — one a 33-yard strike over the top and the other a 28-yard screen pass — and it appeared the Vikings would lead at halftime.
The reverse pass to Beatty changed that, and the Lions' defense stepped up in the second half.
An 14-yard to catch and run by senior Connor Koelzer midway through the third quarter gave the Lions some breathing room. Beatty's second touchdown catch, a 25-yard connection with Robbins early in the fourth quarter, concluded the scoring.
St. Helens' ability to run the ball ultimately made the difference. The Lions had a 215 yards to 31 advantage on the ground, led by 141 yards on 14 carries from Bettencourt.
Beatty caught eight passes for 117 yards.
Robbins, Clift and Nelson combined to complete 14 of 20 passes for 156 yards.
Forest Grove's Miller threw for 280 yards, but the Lions took away the deep pass in the second half.
Junior Austin Waite made a pass interception for St. Helens.
And the Lions defense was solid on third down. The Vikings converted only two of 14 third-down plays in the game.
Young said the halftime adjustment was reminding defensive backs to keep receivers from getting behind them.
"We had to work with them a little bit more on keeping things in front of them," Young said. "And (Forest Grove) made some plays. They had some good looking receivers. A couple times we had guys there and they just made a play."
The Lions made more plays, though, which means they get to play at least one more time this season.