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Lions top Pacers, improve to 4-0

by: Vern Uyetake, Justin Monahan breaks free from Lakeridge defenders toward the end zone for West Linn’s first score in a 21-14 victory over Lakeridge last Friday.

Apparently, one good leg was all West Linn quarterback Mychal Zito needed in last Friday's crucial Three Rivers League match-up against Lakeridge.

Initially, it was believed that Zito either broke or cracked his right fibula, the smaller of the two bones in the lower leg, during the first half of that game. The injury should have been enough to knock Zito out of action. Instead, he remained in the game and led West Linn to an impressive come-from-behind 21-14 victory.

The injury left Zito with a noticeable limp throughout the second half. But he still managed to complete 12 of 19 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

'I just give him all of the credit in the world for his courage for hanging in there,' West Linn coach Ron Chappell said of his senior quarterback. 'He was throwing some beautiful passes … and he made some outstanding reads. He was just really, really poised.'

Zito's injury occurred when he was the recipient of a hard hit out of bounds. Right away there was concern that the injury was severe.

'I just know at some point before halftime he started limping and it kept getting worse and worse,' Chappell said. 'At halftime, the doctor looked (more closely) at it … He's pretty sure it's either cracked or broken.'

As it turned out, Zito only suffered a deep bone bruise. But the injury was serious enough that it was questionable whether he would be able to play in Friday's game against Putnam.

The turning point in last Friday's game might have come when doctors told Zito that he probably wouldn't do any more damage to injured bone if he continued to play against the Pacers. From Zito's perspective, he saw that as a green light to stay in the game.

'Well, the first question I asked (the doctor) was whether I would injure it more by playing on it,' Zito said. '… He said, 'more than likely you won't injure more by playing on it. That was my sign to go in and play the rest of the game.'

Yet, despite the lift the rest of the Lions got when they saw their quarterback return, the Lions still found themselves down 14-7 at halftime.

Considering that Lakeridge has one of the most explosive offenses in the state, West Linn's defense deserved a ton of credit just for keeping the game close. There were fears that the Pacers' potent threesome of quarterback Robbie Kool, running back Zach Young and receiver Taylor Young would take control of the game, but West Linn largely kept them under wraps.

On the other hand, the Lions' offense struggled a bit in that first half. There was really only a 70-yard touchdown by Justin Monahan to show for the offense's efforts.

'The coaches called us out a little bit at halftime and we came back and responded,' said Monahan, who single-handedly turned a short gain on a screen pass into a long touchdown run that featured at least three broken tackles.

After an inspiring pep talk from their coaches, the Lions were clearly fired up at the start of the third quarter. With their renewed enthusiasm, the Lions needed only five plays to score their next touchdown. But almost all of the yards on that series came on one play - a 63-yard catch-and-run by Josh Oltman, who broke two tackles and then outran everyone else for a touchdown that cut West Linn's deficit to 14-13.

'That play to Josh Oltman - that was a sweet play,' Monahan said.

Unfortunately for the Lions, a Lakeridge player managed to get a hand on Robert Truax's extra-point attempt and his kick sailed wide right, leaving the Lions one point behind.

That missed kick hardly mattered, though, because West Linn got the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter on a 49-yard drive that almost exclusively featured running back Kyle Quinn. He picked up 30 yards during that series with his shortest gain coming on a 2-yard scoring run at the end. After a two-point coversion by Quinn, West Linn led 21-14.

The Pacers were far from done, though, and they responded with a long drive that seemed destined to put points on the board with a long bomb to the speedy Taylor Young. But West Linn defensive back Josh Thurston had other ideas. Despite being left to cover Young by himself, Thurston was able to get inside position and he intercepted the pass at the Lions' 2-yard line.

'That was a big play,' Chappell said. 'It was just unbelievable the confidence (Thurston) had in himself.'

Three changes of possession followed, including two by West Linn, which left 1:05 on the clock and Lakeridge had no more times out remaining. But the Pacers managed to move the ball to the West Linn 6, thanks to receptions by Taylor Young, Zach Young and Erik Hillier totaling 57 yards.

Then, a pair of incomplete passes moved the clock down to 1.6 seconds. Suddenly, the game had the feel of a playoff contest.

'I was going over in my mind whether I should take a time out and get the defense in there that we wanted,' Chappell recalled thinking moments before Lakeridge ran the final play. 'But our kids were playing so well I didn't want to stop their momentum.'

Everyone in the stadium figured the Pacers would throw ball on the final play, but Lakeridge coach Rob Kool decided to do what no one expected. He called for an option pitch to Zach Young, one of the best plays in the Pacers' playbook, but the Lions' defense snuffed the play before it ever had a chance to develop. Then the Lions celebrated like they had just won a playoff game.

'I was hoping we could get (West Linn) thinking pass at the end and get them on the edge real quick, two on one. But we didn't block it very well,' coach Kool said of his decision to run the ball at the end.

It would be hard to fault the Pacers' execution, though. The credit really goes to the West Linn defense for pursuing the play so well.

'The (West Linn) kids just reacted to the ball,' Chappell said. 'The thing about this group of kids is they just fly around.'

With the win, the Lions (4-0 overall, 2-0 TRL) are just one of two undefeated teams in the league. (Lake Oswego is the other). More importantly, the Lions are beginning to look like a team of destiny.

'It was our biggest win of the year,' Quinn said. 'We're an underdog team but we're coming out and letting people know what we can do … (Now) we're going to go all the way to the top.'

It's good to be confident, but Chappell doesn't want his team to go too far overboard in that regard.

'We're still only four games into the season,' the coach said. 'We've just got to keep getting better each week … (But) the thing about this group is they have a little bit of magic about them.'

After the game, Zito was taken to a nearby hospital for X-rays. It was determined then that he did not break the fibula, as first feared.

But the deep bruise forced him to wear a large, plastic cast earlier this week to keep him from doing anything too physical. The prognosis for his return was listed simply as 'day to day.' But Zito said you can expect him to play at least a few plays on Friday against Putnam.

'The (coaches) don't want me to make it any worse,' Zito said. 'But in my mind, every game is a big game. So it's kind of hard for me to sit back and watch on the sidelines.'