West Linn falls to Central Catholic in Class 6A football quarterfinals
Early mistakes, a slow start and a talented opponent proved to be too much for the West Linn football team.
The Lions, facing Central Catholic in the Class 6A state quarterfinals at Hillsboro Stadium on Friday, Nov. 22, suffered from all three of those against the Rams and ultimately fell in a season-ending 42-35 loss.
"We knew they had a lot of talent and their offense was pretty explosive, and I thought at times we did a really good job of bottling it up and playing great defense, but there were other times when they made great throws and great catches," West Linn sophomore linebacker Cole Peters said. "There are times when we all feel like we're doing our job and they can create something out of nothing, just because of the athleticism and determination."
"They made plays," West Linn senior wide receiver/defensive back Casey Tawa said. "We were in a great position, but it happens. It was not a lack of heart that beat us, just sometimes it happens that way in football. It sucks, but it happens."
West Linn coach Chris Miller was matter-of-fact after his team's loss.
"We got off to a horrible start and threw two (interceptions) that we shouldn't have thrown out of the gate," Miller said after the game, his final as head coach of the Lions. "We needed to play very well and you should have to play well in the quarters to win and we spotted them 14 (points) and didn't start well and that was our demise."
The loss snapped the fifth-ranked Lions' three-game winning streak and ended their season with an 8-4 overall record after finishing fourth in Special District 5. No. 4 Central Catholic, meanwhile, beat the Lions for the second time this season, won for the seventh straight time and improved to 10-2 overall after winning the Mt. Hood Conference.
Next up, the Rams will face ninth-ranked MHC foe Barlow (10-2 overall) in the Class 6A state semifinals at noon Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.
Regarding West Linn's poor start against Central Catholic, West Linn senior quarterback Ethan Coleman was intercepted on the Lions' first two drives of the game, and while the Rams converted just one of those turnovers into a score, Central Catholic grabbed a 14-0 lead before the first quarter's end.
Following the first interception, the Rams needed only three plays to reach the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Cade Knighton to senior running back Elijah Elliot with 9 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
While West Linn's defense was able to stop Central Catholic on fourth down after Coleman's second interception, after a Lion punt, Knighton found senior wide receiver Silas Starr for an 18-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 14-0 lead with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter.
West Linn rallied after that, though, tying the Rams at 14-14 after a 36-yard touchdown run by junior running back Gavin Haines at the end of the first quarter, and then a 7-yard score by Haines with 2:58 remaining in the first half.
"Coming into the week, our big priority was running and we prepared a lot for that," Haines said. Our 'O' line has been working so hard this season. We knew they were going to be good, but they just came out so much better than I expected and I'm just so proud of all of them."
But the game turned in Central Catholic's direction for good in the final seconds of the first half. With the Rams facing a fourth-and-17, Knighton threw the ball past three West Linn defenders and into the arms of Starr for a 31-yard gain. Senior wide receiver Kalvin Sounders then out-jumped a West Linn defender in the end zone to haul in a 5-yard pass from Knighton with three seconds remaining to lead 21-14 at the break.
Central Catholic then opened the second half with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run from Elliot to give the Rams a 28-14 lead with 8:39 remaining in the third quarter.
"(Elliot) is a great player," Peters said. "He's kind of a 'Give him an inch and he'll take a mile' kind of guy."
A defensive pass interference penalty on the Rams extended West Linn's next drive, and Haines made them pay, scoring his third touchdown of the game from 3 yards out to get the Lions within 28-21 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
"He's a special back," Miller said. "We thought their athletes outside could match our athletes, so we thought we might have the ability to run the ball and be successful early."
But West Linn could not stop Central Catholic's offense and the Rams added two more touchdowns, the first on an 18-yard strike from Knighton to senior wide receiver Kimo Hui, and then a 10-yard run by Elliot with 10:10 left to play to extend their team's lead to 42-21.
West Linn backup quarterback Blake DeBisschop entered the game midway through the fourth quarter and threw two touchdown passes — a 3-yarder to Tawa and then a 10-yard strike to senior wide receiver Chase Fletcher with 1:29 remaining in the game.
"Blake is a special quarterback," Miller said. "He played really well. Maybe I should have played him earlier. I thought about playing him earlier, but it's hard to take a first-team unanimous (all-league) senior off the field and Ethan Coleman had a good year, but Blake's got a very, very bright future. He came into the game and played well."
After recovering an onside kick following Fletcher's score, Central Catholic was able to run out the clock.
"I was really proud of how the guys fought at the end and I was just so grateful to get the chance to play with these seniors," Peters said. "It's a really special group of guys, a lot of great dudes in there who will go on to do great things in college and with the rest of their life. I'm really happy that I got to be part of coach Miller and coach (Aaron) Skinner's last year. Those are two great coaches, just unbelievable. I can't say enough great things about them and the things they taught me."
For the game, Haines gained 168 yards on 25 carries, Coleman went 11 of 24 passing for 104 yards and two interceptions, DeBisschop was 7 of 11 passing for 72 yards and two TDs, with Chase Fletcher making five catches for 58 yards and Tawa six grabs for 58 yards.
For Central Catholic, Elliott rushed 15 times for 160 yards, Knighton went 23 of 34 passing for 278 yards with no interceptions, with Starr catching seven balls for 142 yards.
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