West Linn gets defensive in win over Tualatin
TUALATIN — Sure, the West Linn High School football team is an offensive juggernaut.
That's no secret.
But, guess what? The Lions also can play some really strong defense.
And, on Friday, they really needed that defensive effort.
That's because Tualatin was also playing some hard-hitting, stifling defense.
But it was West Linn, stepping up in a big way on the defensive side of the ball, that came away with a 21-9 win in a Three Rivers League battle played at Tualatin High School.
"Our defense was great tonight," said West Linn junior Dawson Jolley, who had the big offensive play of the contest, with a 72-yard touchdown run. "We had a lot of guys step up on defense. That was a big factor."
"Our defense was incredible. I can't give them enough credit," said West Linn junior quarterback Ethan Long, who threw a pair of touchdown passes. "That was definitely a battle. They're a good football team."
"It was a big challenge for us," said West Linn senior defensive lineman Justin Babcock, who helped lead the defensive effort with a pair of quarterback sacks. "We had so many guys step up on defense. Alex McLaughlin had a great game. He was all over the place."
With the win, the Lions moved to 2-0 in TRL play (4-0 overall), putting them in a tie with Tigard for first place in the league standings.
"This was a big win," Jolley said. "We wanted to come in against a 3-0 team and get the 'W.' This was a big one."
"It was fun to be in a competitive game like this," Long said. "It was a fun battle."
The Timberwolves moved to 1-1 in TRL contests (3-1 overall), putting them in a tie for third place in the league standings.
"I thought we could have played a lot better," said Tualatin sophomore running back Kainoa Sayre, who rushed for a team-high 47 yards. "But we played hard the whole way. We have to bounce back and be ready for the next game."
"It was a pretty good game," said Tualatin senior receiver/linebacker Jackson Willig. "We didn't have things rolling downhill for us in the first half. But we had a perfect effort all night. This game will make us tougher the rest of the way."
West Linn grabbed an early lead, putting together a 63-yard scoring drive on its first offensive possession of the game, but it wasn't easy. The Lions had three third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion on the drive. They also faced a second-and-34 situation after a bad snap on a first-down play.
The 15-play drive was capped off with a five-yard touchdown pass from Long to senior receiver Qawi Ntsasa, giving the Lions a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes and 47 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
With both defenses playing strong, the score remained at 7-0 for most of the first half.
But Jolley changed that late in the second quarter.
With the Lions facing a third-and-one play at its own 28-yard line, Long got under center, leaving everyone thinking it was going to be a quarterback sneak in an attempt to get a first down. Instead, Long pitched the ball back to Jolley on the left side. The speedy Jolley, seeing an opening to the left, sprinted down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown, upping the West Linn lead to 14-0 with 3:50 left to play in the second quarter.
"We've been working on that play a lot — it's my favorite play," Jolley said with a smile. "When it was called, I knew I was going to score. I love those long touchdowns."
Tualatin tried to answer back before halftime.
Behind the running of Sayre and junior Kyle Kamp, and with junior quarterback Kyle Dernedde completing passes to Willig and sophomore receiver John Miller, the Wolves moved the ball to the West Linn eight-yard line as time was running down in the second quarter.
After a couple of incomplete passes in the end zone, Tualatin settled for a 30-yard field goal by Dernedde with eight seconds left in the half, cutting the West Linn lead to 14-3 at the intermission.
After a scoreless third quarter, where both teams' defenses thrived again, the Lions were able to strike early in the fourth quarter.
West Linn capped off a 16-play, 64-yard drive, which started in the third quarter, with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Long to senior running back Ahmir McGee, which upped the Lions' lead to 21-3 with 10:17 left to play.
But Tualatin, again, came fighting back. Timberwolf sophomore Blake Jackson, who took over the quarterback duties after Dernedde left the game due to concussion-like symptoms, threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Nick Savage. The touchdown strike trimmed the West Linn lead to 21-9 with 2:24 left to play.
But the Lions recovered the ensuing onside kick, and they were able to run out the clock to wrap up the victory.
"They had a good defensive scheme against us," Long said. "But we executed when we needed to. This league is so tough. It's a dogfight every game."
"This was super fun," Jolley said. "This is the best (Class) 6A league in the state. Everyone had a chance."
The West Linn defense limited the Timberwolves to 217 yards of total offense in the contest.
Babcock helped lead the way on the defensive side, having a tackle for a loss to go with his two quarterback sacks.
"I've been coming off a rib injury," he said. "This was a good day to come back."
Also for the West Linn defense, senior Seth Bagley had a quarterback sack and junior Elijah Ntsasa had a tackle for a loss.
"It was a great defensive effort all around," Babcock said.
Long completed 21 of 31 pass attempts for 206 yards. Qawi Ntsasa had seven receptions for 69 yards and McGee had five catches for 41 yards.
Jolley led all rushers in the contest with 97 yards on nine carries. McGee ran for 45 yards on 10 carries.
For Tualatin, Jackson completed three of six pass attempts for 70 yards and Dernedde completed four of 10 passes for 25 yards. Willig had four catches for 39 yards. Sayre picked up his 47 rushing yards on 13 carries. Senior Nathan Marx ran for 30 yards on nine carries and Kamp had 25 yards on five carries.
For the Tualatin defense, Miller had a quarterback sack and junior linebacker Jalen Hale had two tackles for losses.
"This was our first real test of the season, and I think we did pretty good," Sayre said. "We were ready to go. Coach told us that all of our opponents are nameless and faceless."
"Overall, this was an important game for us," Willig said. "And I think we did pretty good. We held them to 21 points. I think we showed that we can play with anyone in the state. This is going to give us extra motivation. This is a special group, and I think we can do really big things this year."
"I hope we get to play them again," Sayre said.
Both teams will be back in action on Friday. West Linn will host Newberg and Tualatin will travel to Lake Oswego for Three Rivers League games starting at 7 p.m.