The Lions football team wins its way into the state championship game.
The West Linn football team left no doubt.
The Lions facing two-time defending state champion Central Catholic in the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs at Pioneer Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 18, left no doubt, left nothing on the table and left the Rams no hope, rolling to a 49-17 decision that included a running clock in the second half.
“Winning is all that matters to every single person on this team right now,” said junior wide receiver Wiley Donnerberg, who caught one pass for 58 yards and a touchdown. “We were focused on winning as a team and that’s what our mindset is going to be like heading into next week.”
“We came out from the start and we knew how it was going to go,” said junior offensive lineman Ridge Huot, who helped his team rush for 195 yards against Central Catholic. “We were confident from the start. We knew we were going to come out and play.”
“I think that wasn’t even our full potential. I think we have more than we showed today,” said senior running back Koffi Kouame, who carried 16 times for 101 yards and one TD. “We just have to keep working and stay focused.”
With the win, the team’s 10th straight, the top-ranked Lions improved to 11-1 overall after winning the Three Rivers League. No. 5 Central Catholic, meanwhile, saw its nine-game winning streak snapped and ended its year at 10-2 after winning the Mt. Hood Conference.
Next up, the Lions will face second-ranked Sheldon — the Irish beat No. 3 Tualatin 28-14 in their Friday semifinal — in the Class 6A state championship at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at Hillsboro Stadium. Sheldon is the state’s lone unbeaten 6A team at 12-0, a record that includes a 35-31 win at West Linn back on Sept. 8. MVSJ will preview that matchup next week.
Regarding Friday’s runaway win over the Rams, West Linn’s players said they just took the game plan they were given and executed it — and executed Central Catholic in the process.
“(Head coach Jon) Eagle puts in a great game plan every week and spotlights different players different weeks and we’ve all just been ready to answer the call and eager to get the ball,” said West Linn senior wide receiver/linebacker Mark Hamper, who caught six passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. “And it shows every week how dynamic we are and how many great playmakers we have.”
“The key was the game plan coming into the night,” said Lion senior quarterback Sam Leavitt, who completed 10 of 16 throws for 305 yards and four TDs with one interception, and also rushed five times for 61 yards and another score. “We stuck to it and did what Eagle said. He’s a very smart coach. I love how he thinks about the game. He has a really good football mind and I just have to listen to what he has to say.”
As overwhelming as the Lions’ eventual victory was, Friday started with a thud when Central Catholic junior defensive lineman Matix Carpenter picked off Leavitt’s throw to Kouame in the left flat just 20 seconds into the contest.
From there — the Rams took over at the West Linn 15-yard line — Central Catholic scored in just three plays, with junior running back Cade Gehlen capping the short-field opportunity with a three-yard dive that gave his team a 7-0 lead just 1:50 into the contest.
The Lions, however, didn’t blink.
Instead, they blitzed the Rams by scoring on six straight possessions — all in the first half — and powered to a 42-7 halftime lead that left Central Catholic in the dust.
West Linn sophomore Danny Wideman launched that stretch when he took the kickoff after Central Catholic’s score and returned it 39 yards to the Rams’ 40-yard line. From there, Leavitt ran for 13 yards, Kouame went for nine more and senior Earl Ingle added three straight carries for 18 yards, including the one-yard plunge that — along with junior Gage Hurych’s extra point — tied the game at 7-7.
And from there, it was game on for the Lions. After a three-and-out by the West Linn “D,” Leavitt hit junior tight end Gus Donnerberg for 49 yards, and five plays later, Ingle muscled his way into the end zone from one yard out to give his team a 14-7 lead with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter.
West Linn stuffed the Rams again on the next series, with senior defensive end Jake Holmes making one stop and senior defensive back Jackson Shelstad stopping Central junior QB Cru Newman’s third-down throw.
The Lions took the ensuing possession and marched 93 yards in just seven plays, with Leavitt hitting Hamper for 59 yards to the Rams’ 35, and four plays later, Kouame scoring from two yards out to push the West Linn lead to 21-7.
Shelstad stopped Central’s next series with an interception — the first of his two picks on the night — near midfield. From there, Wiley Donnerberg threw to Leavitt on a trick play for 17, Kouame picked up 13 more and Leavitt connected with Hamper for a tackle-breaking 27-yard TD that made it 28-7 with 7:57 to go in the half.
The Rams turned the ball over again on their next possession, this time with junior Hunter Haines recovering a fumble by CC junior Timothy Mitchell at the Lions’ 15. From there, Leavitt hit Hamper for 13, Kouame ran for 19, Leavitt connected with Hamper again for 47, Kouame picked up five and Leavitt scored from eight yards to make it 34-7 with 4:24 to go in the half.
Shelstad stopped the Rams again on their next series, picking off Newman at the West Linn 42 with 2:26 to go in the half. From there, the Lions needed just one play and 11 seconds to score, with Leavitt scrambling for time, then throwing long over the middle to Wiley Donnerberg who broke a tackle and raced to a 58-yard score that extended West Linn’s lead to 42-7.
To their credit, the Rams drove 63 yards in the final 2:15 of the half and got a 24-yard field goal by senior Bo Robertson to make it 42-10 at the half.
Already completely in control, the Lions ended all suspense at the start of the second half when Wideman picked off Newman at the West Linn 40. Six plays later, with the running clock in effect, Leavitt lobbed the ball to Hamper at the right flag for WL’s final score and a 49-10 lead.
The Rams came back with their second TD drive of the game, marching 64 yards and scoring when Newman connected with senior Amari Abraham for the final 49-17 margin with 8:20 left in the game.
“I have to give credit to Sam Leavitt,” Hamper said. “He’s the best player in the state and it’s just such a blessing playing with a player with an IQ like that and all the talent that he has and all the hard work that he does. I just love being his teammate. Sam’s the most talented player I’ve ever been around.”
“It’s great to be a part of this and I’m just blessed to be able to play on a team like this,” Leavitt added.
For the game, Gus Donnerberg made two catches for 68 yards. For Central, Newman completed 18 of 26 throws for 235 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, with Mitchell making six catches for 73 yards and junior Niko May five grabs for 59 yards.
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