The Lions dominate early, lead 24-0 at the half, then hold on.
As it turns out, reports concerning the death of the West Linn football team were greatly exaggerated.
The Lions — a week after a painful Week 2 home loss to Sheldon — showed there was plenty of life left in them, coming back to beat perennial power Jesuit 31-20 at Jesuit High School on Thursday, Sept. 15.
“Just coming up with a win is big,” said West Linn senior quarterback Sam Leavitt, who threw for 223 yards and one touchdown along with two interceptions, and also ran for another score. “This is great, especially after last week. I’m just happy to get the win.”
“We knew that if we did what we could do, we could come out and beat Jesuit,” said senior defensive end Jake Holmes, who helped the Lions limit Jesuit to 298 yards in total offense and came through with a key fourth-down knockdown of a Jesuit pass late in the game. “We knew that if we bounced back this week, we could show the rest of the state that last week wasn’t what it seemed, that we really can be the best team in the state if we play together.”
“It means a lot to us because we worked so hard this past off-season,” said senior running back Koffi Kouame, who led his team with 85 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries. “That team is a very good team, very good and very hard to beat, but we have a very high ceiling. Working hard in practices really showed here today.”
With the win, the Lions — ranked fourth in the second Class 6A coaches poll of the season — snapped their one-game losing streak and improved to 2-1 overall in 2022. Third-ranked Jesuit, meanwhile, lost for the first time and fell to 2-1 overall. Next up, the Lions will host Lake Stevens, Washington, in non-league play at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23.
“It feels good to come back and beat a powerhouse team like Jesuit after a tough loss like that,” said junior wide receiver/defensive back Wiley Donnerberg, who led his team with five catches for 81 yards. “But now, I think all of our eyes are on Lake Stevens next Friday. It should be fun.”
The Lions hit the ground running Thursday, taking the game’s opening kick and driving 66 yards in just five plays to score and take a lead they would never relinquish. Leavitt ran for six yards on first down, hit Donnerberg for 45 yards on the right side on the next play, and three plays later, scrambled right and ran 15 yards to score for — after the first of junior Gage Hurych’s four extra points — a 7-0 lead.
The Lions then forced a quick three-and-out — with Hurych defending Jesuit junior wide receiver Jace Burton on a third-down throw — and got back in the end zone just five plays later.
Starting from the West Linn 40, Leavitt hit junior wide receiver Gabe Howard for 35 yards, and from there, Kouame carried three times for 16 yards to the Jesuit 15. Then, on first down, Leavitt connected with senior tight end/wide receiver Mark Hamper running left to right across the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 7:15 left in the period.
After a pair of stops — including an interception by Jesuit junior Elias Johnson (when Kouame juggled a Leavitt pass) and a fourth-down stop of Roth by Holmes — the Lions’ offense got back in gear at the Crusaders’ 25. Leavitt hit Donnerberg for 16 yards, and two plays later, Kouame burst into the end zone from six yards out to make it 21-0 with 10:41 remaining in the half.
Starting from the West Linn 40-yard line, Leavitt hit junior wide receiver Gabe Howard over the middle for 35 yards, and after three Kouame carries for 16 yards, Leavitt rolled right and connected with senior tight end/wide receiver Mark Hamper at the right flag for a nine-yard score and a 14-0 lead with 7 minutes, 15 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Jesuit tried to answer on its next series, calling on its powerful offensive line and senior running back Payton Roth — he carried six times for 28 yards on the series — to advance to the Lions’ 35, but Roth got stopped on a fourth-and-four trick play and West Linn took over there.
After another huge West Linn stop — Donnerberg sacked Jesuit junior quarterback Jacob Hutchinson on third down — the Wildcats tacked on a 22-yard field goal by Hurych for a 24-0 lead at halftime.
West Linn opened the second half with an interception by junior Hunter Haines, but after a Jesuit stop, the Crusaders marched 75 yards in just two plays to score their first TD. Roth ripped off 34 yards on first down, and one play (and a 15-yard West Linn penalty) later, Roth ran wide left and up the sideline for a 49-yard touchdown that cut West Linn’s lead to 24-7.
The Crusaders were back in possession just 13 seconds later — on a Burton interception at the Lions’ 27 — and needed just five plays to score from there. Roth and his ‘O’ line did all the heavy lifting there, with Roth carrying five straight times — including a four-yard burst over the right side — to make it 24-13 with 5:22 to go in the third quarter.
The Lions’ next drive flamed out at the Jesuit 29 when Kouame was stopped on fourth-and-one, but Jesuit couldn’t capitalize. The Crusaders drove 41 yards to the West Linn 29 — getting a 28-yard completion from Hutchinson to Burton — but there, facing a fourth-and-seven, Holmes knocked down Hutchinson’s pass attempt and essentially guaranteed his team’s win.
“Jesuit has always been one of the top teams. We knew they weren’t going anywhere,” Holmes said. “No matter what the score was, we knew it was going to be a battle, so to make that fourth down play and get all that momentum back really felt good.”
From there, West Linn marched 71 yards in 12 plays to put an exclamation point on its victory, with Kouame carrying three times for eight yards, Leavitt hitting three straight passes for 21 yards, and senior Ben Winjum carrying the final six plays, including a 27-yard TD run to boost his team’s lead to 3-13 with 2:32 left to play.
Jesuit ended the game with an 85-yard scoring drive capped by Hutchinson’s 10-yard TD pass to Burton, but it didn’t come until just 10 seconds remained in the game.
“We’re young up front, and learning a whole new offense is (challenging) at the beginning, but we are molding really well,” Leavitt said. “They’re balling right now. They handled it great all game against one of the top lines in the state and I think this is just the beginning.”
“The offensive line guys — we have to call them the franchise now — they really worked hard this week. They really worked hard,” Kouame said. “You can see that it showed here today. We can beat anybody.”
For the game, Winjum added 42 yards and one TD on six carries, while Hamper added six catches for 59 yards. For Jesuit, Roth picked up 189 yards and two TDs on 25 carries, Hutchinson went 11 of 19 for 82 yards with one TD and one interception.
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