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Big plays propel Lions over Eagles

by: MATTHEW SHERMAN Mitchell Vogt hauls in a touchdown pass, wrestling the ball away from Centennial’s Luan Hau in West Linn’s convincing victory over the Eagles on Friday.

Last year against Centennial, just about everything that could have gone wrong did for West Linn's football team. The Lions had costly and unfortunate turnovers on special teams and suffered a devastating injury to its starting running back.

This year West Linn's luck changed as evidenced by its first play from scrimmage and steamrolled the Eagles 55-14.

The Lions put on a show offensively with four different players throwing touchdown passes and it all started with a play that none of the team's coaches called.

At a fundraising auction for the team earlier in the year, Ian Giammanco purchased the right to decide what West Linn's first play would be in the Centennial play.

The call was a halfback pass and Mason Finnerty was ready after the Lions took the field for their first possession.

"The coaches told me what the play was and they told me to warm up my arm," Finnerty said.

Finnerty took the pitch, rolled out to his right and then threw to Elijah Eaton along the sideline.

"I saw him break open and knew that I'm not going to get many chances to throw the ball," Finnerty said.

Eaton hauled in the pass and sprinted for a 70-yard touchdown that set the tone for the entire evening.

"It was actually a really good call since (Centennial) was concentrating on stopping the run," coach Ron Chappell said.

The Eagles moved the ball well on their first possession but a fumble was recovered by Kalan Hoedl, giving the Lions the ball back near midfield.

This time it took West Linn just three plays to score. After a holding penalty and a short run, Logan Ems connected with Mario Mastrandrea who got behind the defense and went 61 yards to give his team a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

Centennial steadily moved the ball again on its next possession with its option offense, picking up chunks of yardage on the ground.

The Eagles reached the 12-yard line but West Linn's defense then dug in and stopped Centennial on fourth down.

West Linn quickly got out of the shadow of its own goalposts when Rhett Olmstead caught a 31-yard pass. Eaton had another first down catch and the Lions completed the 88-yard drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Andy Kallien to Mitchell Vogt.

"Both quarterbacks are playing well and making strides," Chappell said.

With a three-score lead, the Lions had the game under control as the Eagles have a solid offense but one that is not known for its quick-strike ability.

Centennial started to get back in the game on its next possession, converting on fourth down for a 31-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 20-7.

West Linn regained momentum just two minutes later, getting big catches by Andrew Yokubaitis and Finnerty to set up Finnerty's 15-yard touchdown run.

There was a flurry of activity to close the half. Centennial responded quickly, getting a 71-yard play on a pass from Corey Messineo to Dustin Shore. The Eagles then scored their second touchdown on a fourth-down play as Messineo hit Luan Hao in the end zone again.

With less than two minutes to play in the half, Centennial forced West Linn to punt for the first time and looked to make it a one-score game.

But Ben Trussell ended those notions when he came up with an interception and returned it 45 yards for a back-breaking score.

"That was a huge play for us and one that really changed the game," Chappell said.

West Linn simply wore the Eagles down in the second half. Sean Byrne came up with another interception on the first drive of the third quarter although his return for a touchdown was called back.

The Lions would score four plays later on a 17-yard catch by Finnerty.

Eaton would add another score midway through the third quarter on a 22-yard run punctuated by a dive into the end zone.

Youkubaitis ended Centennial's next drive with the team's third interception but his touchdown return was also negated by a penalty.

The Eagles' woes on offense continue on their next possession when an incomplete screen pass was ruled a backwards lateral and recovered by Marcus Campbell.

"(Centennial) has a tough offense to defend. I thought we made all the right adjustments tonight," Chappell said.

The Lions then put in sophomore quarterback Derek Sunkle and, on his very first pass attempt he stayed calm under pressure and hit Mitch Hoveke for a pass that went for a 43-yard touchdown.

West Linn ate up most of the fourth quarter with a long drive on the ground that ended at three-yard line.

The Lions move to 2-0 and will play their first road game this Friday against a formidable West Salem team.

West Salem is currently 1-1 this year with a loss to Sheldon and a lopsided win last week over South Eugene.