As Oregon City prepared to take the field against West Linn Friday night, Pioneers coach Dustin Janz reminded his team to "just have fun."
"It's a big game, a great crowd, against an awesome football team," Janz said. "Go out and have fun and play football."
It was fun for the Pioneers when Teron Bradford intercepted a pass in the end zone on the game's opening drive and then they went on a 13-play scoring drive to take an early 7-0 lead.
After that, the game belonged to West Linn.
West Linn quarterback Ethan Long threw for 228 yards and two first-half touchdowns, and then rushed for another touchdown in the second half as the defending Class 6A state champion Lions rolled to a 42-7 rout in the season opener for both teams at Pioneer Memorial Stadium.
After the early hiccup on the game's opening possession, the Lions scored the next three times they touched to ball to open a 21-7 halftime lead.
Two more touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second help West Linn secure its fifth consecutive win in the 97-year-old series with Oregon City.
"It was a good team win," said West Linn linebacker Luke Hamper, whose 92-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Lions a 35-7 lead with 7:07 to play in the third quarter. "We had some adversity, but fought through it and held Oregon City after that first drive. Everyone just did their job."
Janz certainly was hoping for a better start in first game as the Pioneers' head coach.
"West Linn is a good football team and we're starting everything new from scratch," Janz said. "A new offense, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and new in a lot of places.
"Early on, we did OK. We had the interception and then punched it in for a touchdown to get up early, and then we shot ourselves in the foot a bunch – signs of a team that just isn't quite there yet."
After Bradford intercepted a pass intended for Keishon Dawkins in the end zone and returned it to the 33, Oregon City quarterback Austin Bonner led the Pioneers on a 13-play scoring drive that ended with Bonner diving into the right corner of the end zone from 6 yards out.
West Linn answered with a 10-play, 77-yard drive, capped by Dawson Jolley's 19-yard run with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. Jolley started left, then cut back to his right as he knifed through the Oregon City secondary while barely getting touched.
After a Pioneers' punt, Long connected with Qawi Ntsasa on a 33-yard touchdown pass the put the Lions in front 14-7 with 8:09 remaining in the second quarter. Ntsasa had to leap to make the catch at the back of the end zone and came very close to landing out of bounds after getting shoved by Oregon City defensive back Israel Miles.
Oregon City went three and out on its next possession, and then Long took the Lions on an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive to take a 21-7 lead with 1:57 left in the half.
The key turning point came on fourth-and-4 from the Oregon City 14 when Long fired a short pass to Ahmir McGee streaking from right to left over the middle. McGee had enough for the first down as he caught the ball, then turned and broke a couple tackles as he powered into the end zone.
Long completed 15 of 20 passes and connected with seven different receivers before giving way to backup quarterback Colby Iverson with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
Jolley was West Linn's leading rusher with seven carries for 95 yards and one touchdown, McGee had 10 carries for 58 yards, and Tyler Good added five carries for 20 yards. Ntasas led all receivers with seven catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 22-yard scoring strike from Iverson in the fourth quarter.
"A lot of guys really stepped up and it was a true team effort," Lions coach Chris Miller said. "We started with a little adversity and really pleased with how we finished.
"This game showed me a lot. We didn't put our heads down and kind of feel sorry for ourselves. And for coaches, too, we kind of have to find our groove. Early in the game, you've got you get in your rhythm of play calling, and we had substitution issues and our defensive ends were struggling keeping contain on Oregon City's touchdown drive.
"So, it's kind of nice to have those things you need to fix and work on."
Bonner completed 11 of 21 passes for 90 yards with one interception, and had nine carries for 28 yards and Oregon City's lone touchdown. Ethan Kassebaum led the Pioneers with 17 carries for 69 yards, while Zakhayas Dennis-Lee saw limited action because of a back injury and had only three carries for 14 yards.
"I saw enough good things, I think we're going to have a good year, it's just a matter of getting things cleaned up," Janz said. "I told the kids, 'Hey, we believe in you no matter what. We're never going to quit on you. You've got to believe in each other, you've got to believe in yourselves, and you've got to believe that we're going to put you in the best position to be successful.'
"If we come together, we're going to be just fine. We've got a competitive team, and when we come together, we're really going to be good down the stretch, I believe."
By Jim Beseda
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