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Pioneers clinch at least a share of their first TRL title since 1996

Clay Valenzuela-Reece makes three picks to lead the way in a 35-21 win at Clackamas


Clay Valenzuela-Reece earned hero honors for Oregon City Friday night, as a packed house at Clackamas High School watched the Oregon City Pioneers dispatch with the Clackamas Cavaliers 35-21 in an intensely played game between two of the state’s top Class 6A high school football teams.by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon City defenders Easton Christiansen (4) and Kiahve Dennis-Lee (20) break up a pass to Clackamas senior tight end Brody Haehlen in last Fridays Three Rivers League game at Clackamas.

Valenzuela-Reece, a 5-9, 159-pound defensive back, intercepted three passes deep in Pioneer territory to turn the tide in Oregon City’s favor.

“That kid’s a baller,” said Oregon City senior quarterback Jon Hall. “He’s stepped up more than anyone as the leader of our defense. Three picks, and he scored a touchdown tonight too. He’s something special.”

The first interception came on Clackamas’ first possession of the game. The Cavaliers were driving, with first-and-goal at the Oregon City 7-yard line, when Valenzuela-Reece dove in front of the intended receiver just inside the goal line to take away what would have been a Cavalier touchdown.

The second pick came with Oregon City leading 21-14 late in the third quarter. The Cavaliers had penetrated to the Oregon City 25, where Clackamas quarterback Doonie Johnson launched a pass into the middle of the end zone. Valenzuela-Reece leaped, came down with the ball and ran it out to the Pioneer 16 before he was brought down.

Nine plays after that pick, Hall scored on a 2-yard run, putting the Pioneers up 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers went on a 13-play drive on their next possession, but were stopped on downs at the Oregon City 15.

On Oregon City’s next play from scrimmage, Hall launched a pass to the left sideline near the midfield stripe. Oregon City senior wide receiver Matthew Oades outran the Cavalier defensive secondary, hauled in the pass, and sprinted untouched for an 85-yard touchdown pass play.

Oregon City senior Alex Canchola split the uprights on his fifth on-target PAT kick, making it 35-14 Oregon City. And the game was in hand.

Valenzuela-Reece then sealed the deal, picking off a Cavalier pass at the Oregon City 10-yard line with 8:10 left to play.

The Pioneers then maintained possession on a drive that erased more than five minutes off the clock.

Clackamas got a touchdown back on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Nick Krska inside the final horn to cut the gap to 35-21. But it proved too little, too late.

Valenzuela-Reece said of his three picks: “I was in the right place at the right time. Like my defensive coach DeShawn McKenzie says, ‘Alignment and assignment. Do it, and you’ll be alright.’”

Valenzuela-Reece noted, “Now I have six picks [on the season] — five of them in my last two games. I’m doing a lot better now than I was at the start of the season. I dropped four in a row in our first couple of games, and they were easy picks.”

The Pioneers had other heroes besides Valenzuela-Reece.

Hall executed at quarterback, completing 10-of-15 passes — without an interception — for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

Oades had four catches for 110 yards on the night, including the long touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter that helped put the game out of reach.

Oregon City sophomore running back Conner Mitchell rushed 31 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns — a 17-yard run early in the second quarter for Oregon City’s first touchdown of the game, and a 35-yard run late in the second quarter that put the Pioneers up 21-14 at the intermission. And Mitchell was money late in the game, when the Pioneers rode his legs to wind time off the clock.

Canchola was perfect on his PAT kicks and he gave the Cavaliers a long field with kickoffs deep into Cavalier territory.

Valenzuela-Reece also got it done with his toe, averaging 39 yards on three punts.

And sophomore linebacker Kiahve Dennis-Lee, who was assigned man coverage on Cavalier star running back Dan Sherrell, led a defensive effort that shut down Sherrell, making 12 solo tackles and two assists.

Sherrell, who had averaged 190 yards per game rushing in seven previous games this season, was held to 83 yards and one touchdown, on 22 carries. He had rushed for over 100 yards in 11 consecutive games prior to last Friday.

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon City sophomore defensive back Trevon Bradford (6) holds Clackamas senior running back Dan Sherrell to a short gain in Fridays game at Clackamas.“We shut down Dan Sherrell, and he’s a great back,” said Oregon City senior lineman Zak Merwin. “I’m so proud of my team.”

Clackamas senior quarterbacks Cade Wilkins and Johnson combined to complete 20-of-44 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. But they also had the three costly interceptions.

Oregon City finished with a 402- to 399-yard edge in total offense.

The win was huge for the Pioneers (7-1), because it put them at 3-1 and in first place in a heated Three Rivers League title chase with but one league game remaining.

Clackamas (6-2, 2-2), Lake Oswego (3-5, 2-2), Canby (4-4, 2-2) and Lakeridge (6-2, 2-2) were in a four-team logjam for second place after last Friday’s games.

Oregon City coach Bruce Reece told his players following last Friday’s win: “We have one more piece of good news for you. Lake Oswego lost [in tonight’s game with Lakeridge]. So no matter what, you’re going to end up at least tied for the league championship.”

It’s the first time since Oregon City made the state final in 1996 that an Oregon City High School varsity football team has won a league championship.

“Being a part of this means the world to me,” said Hall. “It means more than anything.”

“It’s huge!” said Merwin. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this before in my life. I’m just glad I got to do it my senior year.”

“It’s a great feeling!” said Valenzuela-Reece. “We were picked to finish last in the league, so it’s a huge accomplishment....

“It’s great for our community. We’ve worked hard for this and we’re going to keep working hard and playing hard and go as far as we can, for our community and for our city. I feel so much joy right now....”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Canchola. “I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough. We’ve come through so much adversity....”

Clackamas team co-captain Taylor Stinson said, “This is a tough loss for us. After last week [a 42-18 loss to Lake Oswego], we wanted to prove ourselves and show people what we could do. It’s disappointing for us, but Oregon City is a good football team.”

There’s no question. The Three Rivers League has been the toughest Class 6A league in the state this fall.

Clackamas, Oregon City and Lake Oswego were ranked among the top 10 teams in the state in last week’s oregonlive.com sportwriters poll.

Heading into this Friday’s games, the league has five teams ranked in the top 13 in the state in the OSAA Class 6A RPI rankings, which rank teams based on their wins and the difficulty of their schedules — (6) Clackamas, (7) Lakeridge, (9) Oregon City, (11) Canby and (13) Lake Oswego.

Depending upon what happens in this Friday’s games, the TRL could end up with three teams tied for first place. The schedule has Oregon City playing Lake Oswego at Lake Oswego, Clackamas playing Canby at Canby, and Lakeridge playing West Linn (3-5, 1-3) at West Linn.

“It’s going to be a great fight [with Lake Oswego] Friday night, because we don’t want to tie [for the league championship],” said Canchola. “We want the whole thing.”

“It’s going to be our biggest challenge of the year,” said Valenzuela-Reece. “They’re well coached and they always have a great team. We’re going to have to focus harder and practice harder than we have all year if we want to win and get to the top of that mountain.”

Lakeridge upset Lake Oswego 20-14 last Friday, scoring on a touchdown pass with no time remaining. The eight-time defending TRL champion Lakers have played perhaps the toughest schedule in the state this fall, losing to West Linn (7-3) and to four teams currently ranked in the top seven in the OSAA RPI power rankings.



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