From the outside looking in, it was obvious — the West Linn football team was done.
The Lions — facing Central Catholic in both teams' opener at Hillsboro Stadium on Friday — had blown a 19-point lead, saw the Rams pull ahead by eight points in the fourth quarter then punted the ball away on each of their first two fourth-quarter possessions.
But West Linn's defense stepped up when it absolutely had to, the Lions' offense tied the game late in the fourth quarter, and finally, West Linn got one more stop in overtime and won the contest 47-41 on senior running back Dawson Jolley's 25-yard touchdown burst.
"It's amazing," said Jolley, who rushed 17 times for 149 yards and two TDs, and also made three catches for 62 yards and another score. "The greatest feeling by far, ever."
"(Jolley is) unbelievable. He does super well and he did what he does," said West Linn senior quarterback Ethan Long, who completed 24 of 43 passes for 349 yards and four TDs, and also ran for 85 yards and another score. "He's just phenomenal. Phenomenal."
"Because we are a young team, we really had to keep our spirits up," said West Linn senior lineman Brian MacClanathan, who made a key sack in overtime on Friday. "The guys came out and gave their hearts. They put it on the field."
With the win, the Lions improved to 1-0 on the season, while the Rams — who rallied from a 26-7 deficit to lead 41-33 in the fourth quarter — fell to 0-1. Next week, West Linn hosts McNary at 7 p.m. Friday, while Central Catholic plays next at 6 p.m. Saturday against Eastside Catholic at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
West Linn started Friday's game on an absolute roll, scoring on each of its three first-quarter possessions to grab a 20-7 lead against the Rams. Highlights there included Long's 36-yard TD pass to Jolley, Long's 11-yard scoring strike to senior wide receiver Tanner Moore, and finally — after Elijah Elliott's 7-yard TD run for Central — Long's 78-yard touchdown throw to senior wide receiver Brodie Corrigan on the final play of the first quarter.
"We started off fast on offense. Every possession, we scored on," said Corrigan, who finished with two catches for 97 yards and two TDs before leaving the game with a bone bruise on his knee.
Things got worse for the Rams before they got better, too. After a stop by the West Linn "D," the Lions drove 85 yards to score again, with Long hitting Corrigan for a 19-yard TD on a fourth-and-10 play with 4 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the opening half to lead 26-7.
But Central Catholic was far from done. The Rams responded with a 34-7 scoring edge over the next two quarters, took the lead at the end of the third quarter and pushed ahead 41-33 on their first possession of the fourth.
Central began its long road back to competitiveness with a 9-yard TD throw from Cade Knighton to Silas Starr late in the first half, got a stop on West Linn's ensuing possession, then scored again when Knighton connected with Khalen Bostic from 4 yards out with 13 seconds remaining in the half to bring the Rams within 26-21.
Jolley and West Linn pushed back at the start of the second half, with Jolley taking an inside handoff, breaking a tackle, then spinning free to score from 13 yards out and give his team a 33-21 lead midway through the third period.
Central Catholic just kept coming, though. First, the Rams got a 9-yard TD pass from Knighton to Silas Starr with 3:42 to go in the third. And then, after seeing Jolley stripped and Central's Clyde Bell recover the fumble, Central running back Miles Jackson hit paydirt from 2 yards out to give his team its first lead at 34-33 near the end of the third quarter.
Next, the Rams' defense forced a three-and-out and a short punt, and six plays later, Bostic took an end around to the right side, saw his way cut off by West Linn defenders, then reversed field and raced left to score and give his team a 41-33 lead with 9:51 left in regulation.
Then, after trading punts twice, West Linn took over at its own 30 with 4:59 remaining. The Lions scored just six plays later when Long ran an option keeper over the left side for a touchdown from 14 yards out with 3:10 remaining. And then, on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, junior Casey Tawa took an end around to the left side to tie the contest at 41-41.
West Linn's Ethan Loun stopped Central's next possession with an interception, but the Lions' chance at winning in regulation short-circuited at the Rams' 20 and sent the game to overtime.
The Rams had the first possession in OT and converted one key third down possession to stay alive, but then, facing a third-and-12 from the 15, saw MacClanathan break through to sack Knighton for an 8-yard loss. Then, on fourth down, Knighton connected with Ethan Flynn in the right flat with the game on the line. Flynn raced up the right sideline toward the first down marker at the 3-yard line, only to get knocked out of bounds by West Linn senior Moore at the 4.
"My coach gave us the blitz call and I ran in but the gap was covered so I went to the other gap and it was wide open and I got right to the quarterback," MacClanathan said. "It felt great."
"The advantage swung completely to our side and it was a great, great play from our defense," Corrigan said. "I'm so proud of them."
Then, on West Linn's first play of overtime, Jolley went up the middle, broke a pair of arm tackles at the 12 and sped into the end zone to win the game.
"Coach (Chris Miller) asked if we wanted to go with the outside run or inside run," Jolley said. "The whole rest of the team wanted to do the outside run but I said 'I'm comfortable with the inside run' and it looked like it paid off a little bit."
"That took a lot of heart," Corrigan said. "We let the seniors do their thing and it ended up just like that."
Tawa led the Lions in receiving with eight catches for 108 yards while Cade Knutson had five catches for 56 yards. For Central, Knighton went 33 of 45 passing for 357 yards and three TDs with one interception.
Starr led the Rams with 10 catches for 156 yards and two TDs, while Kalvin Souders made nine grabs for 103 yards.
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