West Linn falls 35-27 in season opener against Central Catholic
The West Linn football team had Central Catholic right where it wanted it.
The Lions, hosting the talented Rams at West Linn High School on Friday, Sept. 6, rallied from a one-touchdown deficit and took a six-point lead over Central Catholic on the second play of the fourth quarter.
But the Rams caught fire down the stretch, scored on their next two series, stopped West Linn on its final two possessions and edged away to win 35-27 in both teams' 2019 season opener.
The Lions, who beat Central Catholic in overtime in their 2018 opener, knew they'd let a golden opportunity slip from their grasp.
"We've got to execute. There's some little things we can do better," said West Linn junior Clay Masters, who caught one pass for 35 yards, picked off a Central Catholic throw and led his team in kickoff return yardage. "If we execute a few things better, the results may be different. But we tip our caps to them. They played a great game."
"I thought we competed really well," said senior wide receiver Chase Fletcher, who finished with four catches for 59 yards in the loss. "Overall, we could have rallied back, but it got kind of tough toward the end. It is what it is."
For West Linn junior tight end Mitchell Duea, who caught a touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining in the first half, Friday's result just left him hungry to get better, to improve and — maybe — to get another shot at the Rams later in the year.
"They're a good team but we are going to be able to watch film and make our team better," he said. "I hope to see them later in the season and we are going to win."
With the loss, West Linn fell to 0-1 on the season, while the Rams improved to 1-0.
West Linn drew first blood Friday night, taking game's opening possession and — after a 41-yard Masters kick return — driving 52 yards to score and grab a 7-0 lead. Senior quarterback Ethan Coleman hit 2 of 3 passes on the drive for 46 yards, including an 18-yard strike to senior tight end Damiko Tidmore on a tip-drill catch in the right corner of the end zone.
After a trade of punts, Central Catholic came back to tie the score at 7-7 with 3:58 remaining in the first quarter, getting a 9-yard TD pass from quarterback Cade Knighton to Miles Jackson on a route over the middle.
Following another stop by the Rams' defense, Central Catholic took over at its own 15-yard line and needed just one play to score. Senior running back Elijah Elliott took a handoff up the middle, cut back to his left and sprinted 85 yards to score for a 14-7 edge with 1:46 to go in the period.
West Linn came up empty again on its next series, but got back in business soon thereafter when Masters made a one-handed interception of Knighton near midfield and returned it up the left sideline to the Rams' 23.
The Lions scored five plays later when Coleman threw low to the left side of the field and found senior wide receiver Ethan Loun for a diving catch on a slant route that tied the game at 14-14. Junior running back Gavin Haines did the rest of the work on the drive, carrying four times for 18 yards to set up Loun's score.
Central answered with a 74-yard TD drive that pushed it back in front at 21-14 when Knighton hit Kalvin Souders for a 17-yard score over the right side with 3:36 remaining in the half.
That was too much time to leave West Linn, though. The Lions responded with a 68-yard scoring drive highlighted by Coleman's passing — he hit 8 of 10 throws for 75 yards — and capped by Coleman's 7-yard dart to the diving Duea over the left side with just 9 seconds to go in the half.
After all that, the two defenses held the upper hand in the scoreless third quarter, with the Lions forcing two Central Catholic punts and the Rams one, with West Linn beginning its last scoring drive with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
On that drive — a 76-yard march — Coleman connected on seven straight throws for 77 yards and Haines did the rest, eventually scoring on a 1-yard plunge with 11:37 left in the game. But West Linn junior Ben Siegel's ensuing extra point was blocked and the door was left open for the Rams' eventual comeback.
They took advantage in the remaining minutes, first driving 69 yards behind Knighton (he went 5 for 5 for 68 yards) to score on a 9-yard throw to Silas Starr, and after a West Linn three-and-out, going 64 yards for their insurance TD.
On that second drive, Elliott — he rushed 14 times for 189 yards and one score — carried four straight times for 37 yards and Knighton hit Starr on a crossing pattern for a 25-yard score and a 35-27 lead with just 4:19 to go.
The Lions advanced as far as the Rams' 29-yard line on the ensuing possession — thanks in large part to Fletcher's 27-yard catch over the middle — but got no farther and the Rams escaped with the win.
After the game, the Lions talked about the need to better defend Central Catholic's passing game. Knighton finished 20 of 29 passing for 265 yards and three TDs with one interception.
"They hit us on, like, 10 or 12 under routes — just short crossing routes — that we needed to take care of," Fletcher said. "They had a really good offense. It was tough to stop them."
"Those slant routes are definitely hard to guard, but we'll definitely look at that on film," Duea said.
Beyond that, the Lions were proud of their efforts and hopeful about what might lie ahead.
"There's some things we can improve on, but I think we showed that we can be resilient in those situations," Masters said. "We fought the whole time and I'm really proud of us for that."
For the game, Coleman went 21 of 32 passing for 256 yards and three TDs, Haines rushed 17 times for 55 yards and one score, and Casey Tawa led West Linn receivers with eight catches for 126 yards.
Cole Peters, a junior linebacker, led the Lions with 13 tackles — eight of them solo stops — in the loss.
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