The Lions outgain the Irish by more than 200 yards but make too many mistakes to win.
It ain’t always about stats.
Just ask the West Linn football team.
The Lions, in their Week 2 non-league contest against powerful Sheldon, racked up more rushing yards than the Irish.
They recorded more passing yards — a lot more — and more first downs.
And they had more big plays, too, with Sheldon recording three plays of 20 yards or longer while West Linn notched eight.
But none of that mattered. The Irish took advantage of their chances far better than the Lions, made fewer mistakes, committed fewer turnovers and edged away to win 35-31 at West Linn High School on Thursday, Sept. 8.
The Lions, second ranked in the first Class 6A coaches poll of the season, left convinced that they’d killed their own chances of victory.
“I think if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot as much as we did, it’s a different game,” said senior Ben Winjum, a starting linebacker who also rushed twice for eight yards against Sheldon. “We’ve just got to clean it up. We’ve got to clean it up.”
“Deep down, we believe we’re the better team,” said senior defensive lineman Jake Holmes, who helped West Linn hold Sheldon to 279 yards in total offense. “We just made mistakes that I think can be fixed easily with discipline over time.”
“I would say we shot ourselves in the foot many times this game,” said senior Earl Ingle, a starting linebacker who led his team in rushing with six carries for 44 yards. “They’re a great football team and they made great plays out there. Nothing against them, but I think we beat ourselves. They didn’t beat us.”
With the loss, West Linn saw its one-game winning streak snapped and the Lions fell to 1-1 overall. Sheldon, ranked sixth in the first coaches poll, won for the second straight time and improved to 2-0 overall. Next up, the Lions will play at No. 3 Jesuit (1-0 overall) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15.
As painful as its Thursday loss was, the Lions said the defeat would pay dividends before the year ends.
“This will definitely push us through the rest of the season because nobody likes this feeling that we have right now, especially not on our home turf,” Ingle said.
“It’s a disappointment, not the thing we wanted, but it’s time to move on, time to get better,” said senior offensive lineman Eric Murtaugh, who helped West Linn rack up 486 yards in total offense. “I’m going to be in the gym tomorrow lifting, I think all the guys are — it’s time to get better. It’s time to move on.”
The Irish knocked the Lions back on their heels on the night’s first play, with Sheldon senior Grafton Robinson taking the game’s opening kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 14 seconds into the contest.
West Linn drove into the Sheldon red zone on its ensuing series, but saw that drive short-circuited by a penalty and a fumble that set the table for the Irish’s next score.
On its ensuing possession, Sheldon marched 57 yards on 13 plays to take a 14-0 lead with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the opening quarter. Senior quarterback Brock Thomas did most of the damage on that series, rushing five times for 28 yards, then rolling right and throwing back left to senior Luke Leighton for a 6-yard TD.
Shocked awake by Sheldon’s fast start, West Linn responded with a lightning strike when senior quarterback Sam Leavitt stepped up on first down to hit senior tight end/wide receiver Mark Hamper down the left seam for a 73-yard touchdown that cut the Sheldon lead to 14-7 with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter.
There was more trouble ahead for West Linn, though, with its next series ending when junior Gage Hurych’s punt was blocked by Leighton and recovered by the Irish at the Lions’ nine-yard line. Sheldon needed just one play to score from there, with senior Cade Welch taking an end around to the right side of the field, then throwing back to Thomas for a nine-yard TD and a 21-7 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
Undaunted, the Lions responded with a 78-yard scoring drive of their own, with Leavitt hitting four straight throws for 67 yards and senior running back Koffi Kouame capping the march with a 5-yard TD run up the middle to cut his team’s deficit to 21-14.
After the Lions defense forced a three-and-out — highlighted by junior Gus Donnerberg’s 10-yard sack of Thomas — West Linn had a chance to tie the game but fumbled the ball away with 5:11 left in the half and still trailed 21-14 at the break.
After its up-and-down first half, West Linn opened the third quarter with a potent 79-yard scoring march that took just eight plays and 2:39, with Ingle ripping off a 22-yard run and Leavitt hitting Hamper on the left side for a 23-yard TD that tied the contest at 21-21.
Sheldon responded in-kind, however, driving 80 yards in just five plays to push ahead 28-21. That series was capped when Thomas threw a lateral pass to Welch and Welch threw long to Leighton for a 44-yard TD and a 28-21 lead with 7:53 to go in the period.
The Lions answered at the end of the period with a four-play drive that tied the contest at 28-28, with Leavitt throwing down the middle of the field to Hamper who made an over the shoulder catch and ran away from the Sheldon defense for a 56-yard score.
On the next play from scrimmage, West Linn junior Hunter Haines picked off a Thomas pass near midfield and took it all the way back to the Irish 25-yard line. While the Lions failed to score a TD on the ensuing series, they got a 22-yard field goal from Hurych that gave them their first lead of the game at 31-28 with 10:05 left in the contest.
Sheldon showed its strength on the following possession, however, driving 80 yards to re-take the lead at 35-31 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Leighton. That score was set up by Thomas’ 71-yard completion to senior Isaac Peters three plays before Leighton’s TD.
While West Linn’s next series was derailed by an interception by senior E.J. Peterson, the Lions’ “D” forced a crucial three-and-out and gave their team possession at the Irish 42 with 4:37 left to play.
On first down, Leavitt hit Hamper on the right sideline and he hurdled over Sheldon senior Zach McEwen for a 31-yard pickup to the Irish 11-yard line — only to see the play erased by a West Linn personal foul.
That drive flamed out near midfield, and while the West Linn defense forced another three-and-out on the ensuing series, the Lions couldn’t make anything happen in the game’s final 26 seconds.
After the contest, the Lions promised to learn from the loss and use it for fuel in weeks to come.
“This game exposed a lot of things we’ve got to work on,” Winjum said. “It’s good that we lost early this season so we can work on those things and make it better. It’s all uphill from here.”
“I was telling our boys that I think this is the best thing that could happen to us the whole season,” Holmes said. “Coming into this game, our heads were way too high, saying ‘We’re the best team in the state. Nobody comes close to us.’ I’m glad this happened because I think this is going to be the turning point to our season.”
For the game, Leavitt went 19 of 31 passing for 417 yards with three TDs and one interception, with Hamper making 11 catches for 296 yards and three scores, while junior Wiley Donnerberg made six catches for 93 yards.
For Sheldon, Thomas completed 14 of 26 throws for 187 yards with two TDs and one interception, while Welch hit both his passes for 51 yards and two scores. Leighton led Sheldon receivers with four catches for 72 yards and three TDs.
See the complete slideshow from this game here.
See all the photos from this game at milesvance.smugmug.com.
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