Lions nearly make up 17-point deficit in final seven minutes

by: VENR UYETAKE - West Linn's Elijah Molden holds onto a pass in last week's game against Oregon City. He had 133 yards receiving in the game.The West Linn football team came up one play short of a borderline miraculous comeback in what could be the final league showdown between the Lions and Pioneers for the foreseeable future.

The West Linn and Oregon City football game is the longest continuous rivalry of its kind west of the Mississipi River and while that rivalry is still expected to continue, it is expected that Oregon City will move to the Mount Hood Conference next year as part of the OSAA's redistricting.

The teams put on an exciting performance on Friday with the Lions nearly rallying from a 17-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter in a 31-28 defeat.

Oregon City got on the board first. Aided by a key roughing the passer penalty, the Pioneers scored on a touchdown pass to Hunter Knighton midway through the opening quarter.

West Linn responded, converting on fourth and inches before getting a 3-yard touchdown pass from Hayden Coppedge to Cam Schmitz.

But the Pioneers would dominate the second quarter and take control of the game. Oregon City had a big kickoff return to the 15-yard-line. The West Linn defense held, giving up a short field goal.

Then, after a defensive stop, Oregon City took advantage of good field position and scored to make it 17-7.

The Pioneers followed with a terrific one-handed interception at midfield and punched in another touchdown on a 43-yard draw.

West Linn was driving to cut into the lead late in the half but a holding penalty and a big sack made it third-and-38.

Schmitz was the Lions' primary target in the first half, catching five passes for 74 yards.

Oregon City nearly put the game away early in the third quarter but a tricky fake punt attempt fell just incomplete. West Linn failed to capitalize, however, driving to the Oregon City 10-yard line before getting upended on fourth down.

The Lions would get the ball back and score on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 3-yard burst from Chance Mazzia. West Linn used short passes and were helped by a pass interference penalty to move the ball downfield.

But Oregon City responded again, getting some big runs from Conner Mitchell and scoring with 6:53 left in the game to make it 31-14. Mitchell had 220 yards on the ground in the contest.

West Linn had an immediate answer to stay in the game. Dean Swanson fielded the ensuing kickoff and found room on the left sideline for a 92-yard touchdown, giving the Lions a huge jolt.

Oregon City didn't show panic, however, and moved the ball down the field again on the ground, reaching the 6-yard line before fumbling the ball to the Lions.

West Linn reached midfield before Coppedge took a big hit that he was slow to get up from. On the very next play, Coppedge hit Elijah Molden on a perfect pass that went for a 57-yard score with 3:34 remaining.

Trailing by three points, West Linn attempted an onsides kick that it failed to recover. But the Lions forced a three-and-out and would take over at their own 14-yard line.

The Lions moved to midfield again but Clay Valenzuela-Reece's second interception of the game would seal the victory.

West Linn is now 1-2 in league but just one game out of first place. The Lions play Canby on the road this Friday.

As part of the game's halftime festivities, West Linn's Neil Zellick, a three-year starter at quarterback for the Lions, was inducted into the Oregon City/West Linn Rivalry Game Hall of Fame.

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