It has been awhile since the Lions' football team has been in this position. There was a time when it was a foregone conclusion that the road to the Three Rivers League championship would ultimately run through West Linn. Now, all eyes will be watching the Lions once again as they travel to Lake Oswego for a game that will, almost assuredly, decide the title.
West Linn, with its most recent 20-0 victory over Putnam on Friday, stayed undefeated and leap-frogged the Lakers in the current poll, moving up to eighth.
How big would a league title be for the Lions? Not only would it solidify West Linn's status as being one of the most surprising teams in the state this season, it would earn the Lions a first-round bye in the playoffs with the way that the brackets are set up this year. And the importance of an extra week of rest and practice before taking on the state's best teams can not be overstated.
'Three years ago we played Lake Oswego in a similar situation. We were both undefeated and they got us, but this year hopefully we'll turn the tables,' coach Ron Chappell said.
But before West Linn earned its showdown with Lake Oswego, it needed to get past a Putnam team in a game that, on paper, could have posed problems for the Lions.
First, the enormous Laker showdown loomed on the horizon, second West Linn was without the services of starting quarterback Mychal Zito because of a leg injury and third, the Kingsmen possess one of the most talented players in the state in tailback Jeovonte Mayes.
However, the Lions turned in a stellar performance on defense to stymie Putnam and sophomore quarterback Bryce Baker was solid in his first varsity start to lead West Linn to a convincing victory.
On the Lions' opening drive, they were quickly faced with a fourth and one situation on their own 43-yard line. West Linn opted not to punt and Baker ran a sneak for a four-yard gain.
'Any time you lose your starting quarterback it's going to throw your offense off a little bit, but Bryce did a fantastic job,' Chappell said.
West Linn then used runs from Kyle Quinn and a short pass to Zach White that went for 26 yards to set up a six-yard run from Quinn to put his team on the board.
Putnam responded with an efficient drive, completing a 34-yard pass on its second play and running Mayes six times before the Lions finally came up with a stop.
Faced with fourth and five on West Linn's six-yard line, the Kingsmen attempted a field goal. The Lions' Brad Rose timed the snap and went untouched across the line of scrimmage to block the kick.
The ball bounced backwards where White scooped it up and out-ran Putnam's field goal unit 79 yards for another score.
That drive would be as close as Putnam would get to scoring for the remainder of the contest.
West Linn forced a three and out on Putnam's next drive and then moved quickly down the field once more before being stopped at the Kingsmen's 20-yard line. Robert Truax's 37-yard field goal missed wide left.
When West Linn received the ball back for its final possession of the first half, it moved the ball through the air. Josh Oltman and Justin Monahan each had first down receptions, and a pass interference penalty put the Lions in scoring range again. Once again, Quinn got the call, carrying the ball in from three yards out for another score.
The extra point missed leaving the score 20-0 at the half.
Truax had a tough day for West Linn, missing four field goals and an extra point on the night. However, all five of those kicks missed by a matter of inches.
'We drove the ball well all night and got the ball into the red zone a lot. I'm more upset with the fact that we didn't get more touchdowns than I am with the missed field goals,' Chappell said.
Neither team could get things going on offense in the second half. The Lions ran the ball on nearly every snap and consistently worked their way into Putnam territory but struggled to get into the end zone.
However, they did succeed in dominating the time of possession, taking large chunks of time off the clock with each drive.
Putnam only mustered a handful of first downs in the half, as the Lions did a terrific job containing Mayes and making their opponents pay whenever they went to the air.
Late in the third quarter, Monahan put an end to a Putnam drive with a terrific interception, his fifth of the season and the Lions were content to simply hang on to the ball for the remainder of the game.
Quinn did a terrific job in the second half, picking up solid gains on virtually every run to keep drives alive and he was aided by a fantastic performance by the offensive line.
'The line did a great job giving Bryce time to throw and opening up holes. It was a good effort,' Chappell said.
For the game, Quinn had 123 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. Baker was 10 for 19 for 104 yards and no interceptions and the Lions held Mayes, the league's leading rusher, to 91 yards on 19 carries.
'I'm really proud of our defense. To shut out Jeovonte and keep him out of the end zone is great,' Chappell said.
This week's showdown with the Lakers will be on Thursday at Lake Oswego.