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Stunning comeback gives Lions first win

West Linn rattles off 33 unanswered points in 18 minutes of play to stun Grants Pass 40-34


by: MATTHEW SHERMAN - West Linn's Jarrod Howard hauls in a athletic 35-yard touchdown pass which tied the game at 34-34 in the fourth quarter of last Friday's dramatic victory over Grants Pass. Although it wasn't a thing of beauty, Mike Fanger's first victory with West Linn will undoubtedly be memorable. After suffering through another sloppy half of football where very little went right, the Lions more than righted the ship midway through the third quarter, rallying from a 34-7 deficit to score 33 unanswered points, capping one of the most remarkable comebacks in the program's history.

After Grants Pass scored its fourth touchdown of the night, the Lions fumbled the ensuing kick-off which was returned for a touchdown, making the score 34-7 with 8:43 to play.

To that point, the game looked similar to the team's opener in Idaho. Penalties and special teams miscues hurt the Lions again and the offense struggled to find consistency. West Linn's lone score to that point was an impressive 91-yard kick-off return by Dalton Tuor.

“We had another bad half and things snowballed again but I give all the credit to the kids. They never gave up,” Fanger said.

West Linn then started its next drive on its own four-yard line. A personal foul and pass interference penalty helped the Lions get started and quarterback Matt Fletcher then hit Mario Mastrandrea and Braden Vogt on first-down receptions.

Fletcher would then connect with Jarrod Howard to the six-yard line and scored on a keeper on the next play with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter but the extra point missed.

Grants Pass was stuffed on fourth down on its next drive and the Lions went three-and-out, still trailing 34-13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Grants Pass was stopped short on fourth-and-inches again after the Cavemen converted two fourth-down plays easily in the first half.

West Linn took over deep in its own territory again and quarterback Hayden Coppedge came in and converted a pair of first downs. A roughing the passer penalty and a 16-yard pass to Mastrandrea moved the Lions into scoring range and, three plays later, Coppedge connected with Joel Larson for a 25-yard touchdowns.

“Things just started clicking. It was just a matter of the kid believing they could get it done,” Fanger said.

Now the Lions had momentum and Grants Pass, which lost its opener in heartbreaking fashion to Clackamas in the fourth quarter, appeared rattled.

On the first play of Grants Pass' next drive, a fumble gave the ball right back to West Linn.

It took just three plays for the Lions to go 46 yards, culminating with a 14-yard touchdown from Coppedge to Howard. A two-point pass from Coppedge to Kevin Edwards made it 34-27 with 7:19 to play.

“I thought Hayden Coppedge was the player of the game. To come in with virtually no experience and get it done was huge,” Howard said.

Grants Pass, which had moved the ball effortlessly in the first half, was stymied for a three-and-out and the Lions moved quickly again. Coppedge had the hot hand in the fourth quarter and Fanger stuck with him. After another big catch by Mastrandrea, Coppedge threw deep to Howard, who leapt and made a spectacular catch for a 35-yard touchdown. A pressure-packed extra point from Zach Nelson was good to tie the game with less than four minutes to play.

The Cavemen were stuffed again as they looked to regain the lead. Colin Davis recorded a big sack on third down and the Lions took over on their own 47-yard line.

Coppedge went back to work and hit Louie German for a 25-yard gain. The Lions virtually abandoned the run in the second half. For the game, West Linn had -12 yards on the ground, including an errant punt snap and sacks.

With 1:38 to play in the game, Coppedge hit Larson for another touchdown but a bad snap on the extra point left the door open for Grants Pass.

The Cavemen showed signs of life after converting on fourth-and-two. Grants Pass steadily moved all the way down to West Linn's 20-yard line with plenty of time for a potential game-winning score. But the Cavemen burned all of their time-outs and, on third down, Davis sacked the quarterback as the final seconds ticked off the clock, sealing the victory.

“I felt like we had it the whole time. Our defense had been a little shaky earlier but they stepped up in the second half,” Howard said.

It was a remarkable comeback to say the least. Coppedge and Fletcher combined to throw for more than 400 yards, the vast majority of which came in the second half. The win was also a huge shot in the arm for a team that is still in an adjustment period and needing confidence.

The Lions will take on Barlow at home this Friday.