In a sense, the second-ranked West Linn Lions were messengers on Friday, Sept. 17, when they rolled to a 28-14 non-league football win over No. 6 Sunset at Sunset High School.
The West Linn seniors from last season, who led the team to a 6-0 record and staked a claim to the unofficial Class 6A state title, wanted this year's Lions to deliver a message to the Apollos, who also were perfect in the spring and made their own case for statewide supremacy.
"It felt good. We kind of hushed the debate of who the champions were last year," West Linn junior receiver Mark Hamper said. "That senior class texted pretty much all of us, 'Go get it done.' And we came out here and we got the job done. We wanted to leave no doubt."
"Oh yeah, we wanted to do this not only for us, but for the seniors that left," said Lion senior running back Jaxon Steinhauer, who ran for a career-high 104 yards and a score on 21 carries, "because they believed that they were the best team last year, and I knew for a fact that we were. It was just good to come out here and get this win for not only us, but for the seniors ahead of us."
With the win, West Linn won for the third straight time and improved to 3-0 overall, while the Apollos lost for the first time, saw their two-game winning streak snapped and fell to 2-1 overall.
"We thought we were prepared," Kim said. "They're a really good football team and we're a really good football team, (but) they outdid us tonight."
"First half, we were playing a little bit timid, but second half we stepped up big and we showed everyone who we actually are, who we know we are," added Sunset senior receiver Hayden Hurley said, who caught a 35-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The Lions drove 78, 70 and 51 yards for touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 21-0 lead and were never seriously threatened by the Apollos. West Linn senior quarterback Chase Harmon completed 21 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think we're coming along nicely as a team," Harmon said. "It's crazy, but we've got a long way to go still. This wasn't a perfect game by any means, and we still came up with a 28-14 victory on the road against a top-five team."
It was a convincing win, but West Linn coach Chris Miller believed the Lions could have put the game out of reach even earlier if they had capitalized on other opportunities.
"I'm not satisfied. I'll just be honest," Miller said. "I mean, it's a good win — it's nice to win — but I have high expectations."
Harmon threw touchdown passes of 59 yards to senior Barret Brundage and 5 yards to Hamper to make it 14-0. Steinhauer then scored on a 3-yard run as the lead grew to 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Sunset kept fighting, though, and finally got on the board late in the third quarter when senior Mason Ebenal strip-sacked Harmon and senior Padraig Owens picked up the loose ball and ran 45 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Lions' lead to 21-7.
But West Linn answered with a 14-play, 84-yard drive that consumed 8 minutes and 15 seconds, and culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Harmon to sophomore Gus Donnerberg that made it 28-7.
It was enough to finally sink Sunset.
Harmon has thrown 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions in three varsity starts.
"I'm still learning. I've got a bunch of stuff left to go," Harmon said. "It's only up from here for me as well."
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Hamper once again was a two-way standout for the Lions. On offense, he caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also was a physical force at linebacker, on one play taking the ball away from Sunset senior tight end Michael Ostby after a catch.
"We're young — (we've got a) new offense — so our defense is going to have to make plays for our offense to make up for mistakes, and that's exactly what we did tonight," said Hamper, who had interceptions in each of the Lions' first two games.
Sunset senior quarterback Grady Newsom finished 17 of 26 for 228 yards and one touchdown, that strike to Hurley in the fourth quarter. Apollo senior tight end Aiden Kimbo had five catches for 110 yards.
Running was much more difficult for the Apollos, though, with Kim held to 30 yards on eight carries.
"Our team is still one of the top teams. I think if we played them again, got another shot at them, it would be a different outcome," Kim said. "This is a hard loss, but our team doesn't back down."
"And next time we see them in December, November, it's going to be a different outcome," he added.
Sunset was playing uphill all night against West Linn, which finished with a 389-230 edge in total yards.
"We kind of got our heads down after that first quarter," Newsom said. "We got punched in the mouth. We hadn't really been stopped that much on offense this year, and we got stopped that first half. We came out in the second half with a new mentality, and I thought we answered back a little bit better."
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