The West Linn football team was, admittedly, not at 100 percent on Friday night against Lakeridge.
Senior quarterback Ethan Long had spent part of his week in a boot after suffering an ankle injury against Sheldon a week earlier.
Senior running back Dawson Jolley — the team's leading rusher — missed the game with a concussion.
So how did the Lions respond? They forced five Lakeridge turnovers, fought off a determined Pacer challenge and pulled away to win their Three Rivers League opener 45-28 at West Linn High School.
"We've got a lot of ballers on this team and I'm really proud of them," said senior running back Brodie Corrigan, who rushed 10 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught five passes for 55 yards and another TD. "We worked our way all the way up from freshman to senior year and we're ready to compete. This team is ready to compete. We're just going to ball out, week in and week out."
"We've got a lot of playmakers on the team," said senior Elijah Ntsasa, who recovered a fumble in the loss. "We have a good system and we just do our jobs and the big plays come to you. They come to everyone. We can play anybody if we play a good game."
With the win, the ninth-ranked Lions improved to 1-0 in TRL play and 3-1 overall, while the No. 36 Pacers lost for a second straight week and fell to 0-1 in TRL play and 2-2 overall.
"I feel like, overall, this week we got it together and bounced back from Sherwood. That was a tough loss for us," said Lakeridge junior running back Jalen John, who rushed 25 times for 138 yards and one TD, and caught two passes for 32 yards and another score. "I feel like we're better than last week. We had a lot of casualties from last week as well (but) I think we, for the most part, did well this game."
"We knew that we were ready for them," added senior safety Hunter Daskalos, who made one of his team's two interceptions on Friday. "We prepared all week, we came back and we just played our hearts out. That's how we made our comeback."
After a slow start by both teams' offenses, the Lions forced the game's first turnover, knocking the ball away from Lakeridge wide receiver Carson Mike after a long reception and getting a fumble return by Tanner Moore to the Pacer 35.
From there, Long hit Casey Tawa for 16 yards, hit Jake Mastrandrea for 11 more and then sent Corrigan up the middle to score and make it 7-0 after the first of Abdul Ali's six extra-point kicks.
The Pacers turned the ball over again just four plays later when Mitchell Due leapt to block Lakeridge punter Max Chandler's kick and give his team possession at the Pacers' 14 — but this time, the Lions' offense came up empty.
Undaunted, the Lions forced a third straight Lakeridge TO, with senior Brian McClanathan forcing a fumble by Pacer quarterback Charlie Maynes that West Linn's Cole Peters recovered at the Lakeridge 18-yard line. Four plays later, Corrigan took a dive play up the middle to score from 14 yards out and extend his team's lead to 14-0 just 33 seconds into the second quarter.
Things got worse for the Pacers before they got better, too. After the Lions forced a punt and took over at their own 35, they needed just four plays to score. First, they got a 48-yard completion from Long to Cade Knutson, and two plays later, saw Long roll right, then throw back left to hit a wide-open Corrigan in the left flat to make it 21-0 with 8:11 to go in the half.
But the Pacers weren't going to go away without a fight.
They rallied with a 68-yard scoring drive that took 11 plays and 4:05 off the clock that included five John carries for 31 yards, and then, three straight carries by junior quarterback Cooper Justice for 12 yards, the last of those a 3-yarder for the score and a 21-7 deficit.
Then it was the Pacer defense that stepped up, with Daskalos picking off a Long pass at the Lakeridge 38 and setting up his team's next touchdown drive. That march took just eight plays, featured a 10-yard John run on fourth-and-three, and ended when Maynes hit John in the right flat and he turned the play into a 22-yard score that brought his team within 21-14 near the end of the half.
The Lions pushed their lead to 28-14 just 2:41 into the second half when Long hit senior wide receiver Jake Mastrandrea on the left side for a 17-yard TD. But Lakeridge answered with a 65-yard TD march, closing within 28-21 when Maynes hit junior Xander Houck for a 41-yard score down the right side.
West Linn kept the heat on with an 85-yard scoring march that ended when Long hit Mastrandrea in stride down the right sideline for a 31-yard TD that boosted their team's lead to 35-21 with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Neither team scored on its next possession, but the Pacers cut their gap to seven points once again — this time at 35-28 — when John went over the left side from 6 yards out with 8:13 left in the contest. Maynes hit Houck for a 49-yard pickup earlier in the drive.
West Linn just kept scoring, though, taking a 38-28 lead on Ali's 22-yard field goal with 5:29 to go. And when a bad Lakeridge snap on fourth down cost the Pacers 22 yards and possession, West Linn took over at the Lakeridge 15. Three plays later, Long hit Knutson on a crossing pattern for another score and a 45-28 edge with 2:22 remaining to play — a score that held up until game's end.
"It feels great," said Mastrandea, who made seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns. "We knew this was bounce-back week, and I think we came out and made a statement tonight."
"We had a little lull in the second quarter when they scored their touchdowns, but we've got leaders on this team to help us bounce back and get going again and I'm really proud of all of them," Corrigan said.
For their part, the Pacers said they would bet healthy, come back strong and take care of business.
"We definitely feel like we're capable," John said. "In both these games, we've beaten ourselves by far. We've beat ourselves."
"What we did when we were down 21-0 is we stuck together," Ali said. "We played as a family. Our defense played our hearts out and we played for each other."
For their part, the Pacers vowed to learn more and get better.
"It took us awhile to get going, but if we play our whole game like we did the second half, then we can contend with anyone in the state," Daskalos said.
For the game, Long went 25 of 43 passing for 351 yards and four TDs, with Knutson making six catches for 144 yards.
For Lakeridge, Maynes went 11 of 22 passing for 185 yards and no interceptions. Houck led the way with three catches for 94 yards and one score.