The West Linn football team looked like it was stuck in low gear at the start of its Friday, Sept. 27, contest at Lakeridge High School.
The Lions fumbled the ball away on the fourth play from scrimmage, turned it over three times in the opening half and didn't score in the first quarter.
But West Linn got right after that, stomped on the accelerator and scored seven touchdowns in the game's final three quarters to beat Lakeridge 48-27.
"We came out and faced some adversity early," said West Linn senior wide receiver/defensive back Casey Tawa, who made seven catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns. "We had a fumble on our third play or something like that and nothing was going our way. It was rainy and we just took a while to get going, but we knew that, when we play our game, we play at a level where we can pull away. We could handle this game the way we know how to handle it."
"We were sloppy (in the first half), but at halftime, we were like 'We've got to pick it up, play West Linn football, forget about all the mistakes we had and just play to the whistle,'" said West Linn senior lineman Ryan Seth, who helped the Lions rush for 274 yards on 33 carries Friday night.
"In the first half, I feel like we kind of underestimated them," said West Linn junior running back Gavin Haines, who ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns. "We came out and thought we were going to beat them by more than we did, but our team came together at halftime. We came out and played our football."
With the win — West Linn's third straight — the Lions improved to 1-0 in Special District 5 play and 3-1 overall. Lakeridge, meanwhile, lost for the second straight time and fell to 0-2 in SD5 and 1-3 overall.
For their part, the Pacers were disappointed with the loss, but felt their efforts had been much better than the week before.
"I think the rain definitely affected some of the passing game," said Lakeridge senior wide receiver Carson Mike, who led his team with five catches for 106 yards and one touchdown. "I think we've got a lot to work on, go back to the drawing board, but I think we'll be fine."
"The second half, we just got behind a little, but we battled the whole time," said Lakeridge junior linebacker Joey Migchelbrink, who finished with five tackles and also recovered a West Linn fumble. "This week, we really just came together and we fixed a lot of mistakes and we just gave it our all this week."
The opening quarter was a struggle for both teams, with the Lions losing a fumble and an interception (by Lakeridge junior Andrew Oliver), while the Pacers turned the ball over on downs once and gave up an interception of their own (by West Linn senior Chase Fletcher) to keep the game scoreless.
The Lions made sure it didn't stay that way, however. After forcing a Lakeridge punt at the start of the second period, West Linn marched 63 yards in eight plays to grab a 7-0 lead, with senior running back Cole Peters carrying four times for 23 yards, including a 3-yard dive for the touchdown with 9 minutes, 35 seconds to go in the half.
The Pacers responded in-kind, taking their ensuing possession and driving 74 yards to tie the game at 7-7, with senior quarterback Cooper Justice throwing to senior running back Caiden Biege-Wetherbee at the left post for a leaping catch over two Lion defensive backs for the score.
The Pacers had a chance to build on that momentum, too, with Oliver picking off West Linn senior quarterback Ethan Coleman for a second time midway through the second quarter.
But West Linn forced a punt after just one Lakeridge first down, and the Lions' offense followed up with a 77-yard scoring drive that saw Coleman go 3 of 3 passing for 50 yards and Haines cap the drive with a 16-yard TD run. Kicker Ben Siegel's extra point went astray after a low snap, but West Linn took a 13-7 lead into the half.
"In the locker room at halftime, it was just kind of a relaxed, 'We got this' kind of vibe," Tawa said. "We played about as bad of a first half as we could and we were still up six points so we were pretty confident going into the second half. We knew that we just had to play our game and we'd be all right."
The Pacers came back strong at the start of the second half, taking the opening possession and marching 65 yards to tie the contest at 13-13. Lakeridge senior running back Jalen John did most of the damage on that series, carrying seven times for 29 yards, including a 5-yard dive that — after West Linn blocked Ben De Vries' PAT — tied the score at 13-13 with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter.
But that was nearly the end of the Pacers' highlights. West Linn scored on five of its final six possessions, extended its lead to 41-20 midway through the fourth quarter and rolled to victory from there.
In fact, the tie score that came with John's TD run lasted just 24 seconds. After West Linn took over following the Pacers' kickoff, Haines took a handoff up the middle, broke one tackle, spun out of another and raced 72 yards to score and give his team a 20-13 edge with 6:41 to go in the third quarter.
Then, following a Lakeridge punt, West Linn scored again in just five plays, getting a 44-yard Coleman completion to Ethan Loun, and later, a 1-yard Haines touchdown run.
After a trade of turnovers — Justice got sacked by Zach Holmes on a fourth-and-five at the Lions' 27 and Peters fumbled the ball away to Barrett Bevacqua at the Pacers' 32 — Lakeridge cut its deficit to 27-20. Justice hit Mike on a crossing pattern in the middle of the field and he broke away for a 61-yard score that brought the Pacers within 27-20.
"It was so fun. It was a perfect ball," Mike said. "I've got to thank my QB for that one."
Undaunted, the Lions scored on their next three possessions to put the game away. They began that stretch with a 24-yard Coleman-to-Tawa TD pass, followed up with a blocked punt by Zyion Nelson that Devontia Bogle recovered for a score, and capped it when Coleman connected with Tawa for a 6-yard score with 2:01 left in the contest.
The Pacers' final score came when John banged into the end zone from 4 yards out with 3:15 to play, a drive that also saw Justice rush six times for 31 yards.
For the game, Haines rushed 22 times for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
"Our line really stepped up this evening," he said. "Every run, I was probably 5 yards downfield before making contact so I had a good night, but I give it all to my 'O' line. They were manhandling them."
Coleman went 17 of 28 passing for 207 yards with two TDs and two interceptions, with Loun adding two catches for 65 yards.
For West Linn, John rushed 23 times for 104 yards and two scores, Justice picked up 63 yards on 15 carries and completed 12 of 23 throws for 206 yards with two TDs and one interception.
"I feel like we put as much effort as we could into this," Migchelbrink added. "The score could have been anything because both teams played extremely well tonight."
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