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West Linn beats Clackamas 41-20, gets another shot at state championship

TIDINGS PHOTO: MILES VANCE - West Linn's Jake Meisen, who scored two touchdowns in his team's 41-20 win over Clackamas in the Class 6A state semifinals at Providence Park, tries for a third on Friday.There was a moment, four minutes into the third quarter of Friday’s Class 6A state semifinal at Providence Park, when it looked like the Clackamas football team might just notch the upset of the season.

The Cavaliers had just scored on an 11-yard Samuel Mulyar run, grabbed a one-point lead over top-ranked West Linn, and looked for all the world like they could hang on and win.

But West Linn — last year’s state runner-up — made sure that moment didn’t last. The unbeaten Lions came back with three unanswered touchdowns in a span of 9 minutes and 30 seconds, outscored the Cavaliers 28-6 in the game’s final 17:25 and won going away at 41-20.

With the win, West Linn (13-0 overall after a Three Rivers League championship) earned another berth in the state championship game, this time against No. 7 Central Catholic (10-3 overall after a Mt. Hood Conference co-championship) at noon on Dec. 3 at Providence Park. Central Catholic beat No. 14 Tigard 35-34 in overtime in its semifinal at Providence Park earlier in the day.

“It's senior year for me and we've got 35 seniors on this team and it's our last shot,” said West Linn wide receiver Jake Meisen, who made six catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. “We have one more game and we're playing to finish it with a bang.”

“This was our goal from the beginning,” said Lions’ senior running back Elijah Molden, who had five carries for 54 yards and two TDs and also made an interception. “We put in the work and talked with our guys every day about what this means to us. We're not finished.”

“When we (pulled ahead by 20 points), I was pretty ecstatic on the sideline,” added senior quarterback Tim Tawa, who went 16 for 20 passing for 352 yards and three touchdowns. “It means a lot to get to the state championship. I know the weight of it from last year. I know how much it means to all the guys. I'm excited. Super excited.”

Clackamas, meanwhile, knew it had been outplayed down the stretch but also knew that it had played its hardest — the Cavaliers (10-3 overall and the Mt. Hood Conference co-champions) left the field with their heads held high after reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2003.

“It’s a real heartbreaker,” said Clackamas senior defensive back Hunter Wilson, who had four solo tackles in the loss. “Coming in, we knew we were the underdogs. During the game, we had lots of fight and we fought them hard, but then, honestly, they were just a little too much.”

“It was a tough game. We probably beat ourselves,” said senior offensive tackle Michael Vance. “There are things we could have done better, but it was still a great season.”

“You know, West Linn is the best team in the state,” added senior running back Jacob McGreevy, who finished with 33 carries for 182 yards despite suffering the nagging effects of an injured shoulder. “We tried to stay with them as long as we could, and it got out of reach, but we kept fighting.”

To their great credit, the Cavaliers hit the ground running on Friday, taking the game’s opening possession and driving 66 yards in 10 plays to score. On that series, McGreevy picked up 24 yards on four carries and quarterback Mitchell Modjeski finished the deal when he connected with tight end Chad Bletko down the middle for a 24-yard touchdown catch and a 7-0 lead just 4:40 into the contest.

The Lions responded in top gear, getting a 35-yard kick return by James Marshall, a 34-yard Tawa-to-Meisen completion, and two plays later, a 19-yard TD run by Molden on an option play around left end. But the Lions’ conversion pass failed and Clackamas still led 7-6.

Clackamas answered with another long drive — mostly powered by McGreevy and his talented offensive line — that pushed the ball all the way to the West Linn 17. But the Cavaliers short-circuited by a penalty there, then saw Modjeski’s third-and-12 pass tipped and picked off by Molden in the end zone two minutes into the second quarter.

West Linn answered with another lightning bolt of a drive, rolling 80 yards in just four plays to take its first lead of the game. The big plays there were Tawa’s 51-yard completion down the right seam to Justin Altenhofen, and Molden’s 25-yard TD run over right tackle that gave the Lions a 13-7 edge with 9:16 remaining in the half.

The Lions’ defense then forced a punt after one Clackamas first down and took off on what looked like would be their third scoring drive. The Lions marched 70 yards in just nine plays and reached the Clackamas seven-yard line with less than two minutes to go in the half. But the Cavaliers’ defense stiffened there — buoyed by a West Linn holding penalty that erased a Molden TD run — and stuffed Qawi Ntsasa at the seven on fourth-and-goal from the 10 to keep the deficit just 13-7 at the half.

Clackamas capitalized on that momentum at the start of the second half, recovering its onside kick and taking over at the West Linn 49. McGreevy and company did the heavy lifting, with the senior tailback carrying six times for 30 yards on the drive and sophomore Braelin Bettles finishing it with an 11-yard run over the right side. Jeffery Nelson’s extra point gave the Cavs a 14-13 lead with 8:01 to go in the quarter.

The Lions hardly blinked, though. They answered with a 65-yard scoring drive to re-take the lead at 20-14 just 2:36 later, with Tawa hitting Meisen for a 36-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown catch on the right side.

Then, after a quick stop by the West Linn “D,” the Lions got an 11-yard Tawa-to-Ntsasa completion, another 11 on a Tawa throw to Tyler Good, then a 26-yard Tawa play-action pass to Meisen for another score and a 27-14 lead with 1:59 left in the third period.

Next, the two teams traded turnovers, with West Linn’s Ben Gans recovering a Modjeski fumble in Clackamas territory, and three plays later, Cavalier lineman Jack Buechler sacking Tawa and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Cole Loboy.

Clackamas, however, could not capitalize, and after a stop by the West Linn defense, the Lions were back in the end zone on a five-yard Good run that extended the West Linn lead to 34-14 with 7:55 remaining in the game.

The Cavaliers did not fold, however. Instead, they bore down and banged out an impressive 80-yard scoring drive that was capped when Modjeski hit Bletko in the right flat for a nine-yard TD that brought their team within 34-20 with 1:48 left to play.

West Linn, however, wasn’t going to let this one get away. On the second play of the ensuing series, Tawa hit Ntsasa on the left side and he broke free for a 66-yard score and the game’s final 41-20 margin.

“We have dogs and none of the guys have ever backed down from a fight,” said Ntsasa, who finished with four catches for 90 yards. “When we see adversity like that, we're ready to take it head-on and play our best.”

“Coming out to start the second half, we battled strong and then kind of let it go at the end, but we all played to the best of our ability,” said Loboy, who finished with three tackles and the fumble recovery. “I think if we got matched up again, I think we could beat ‘em.”

For the game, Modjeski added 79 yards on 14 carries and Jake Bushman led Clackamas with seven tackles. For West Linn, Altenhofen had 93 yards on three catches, and Gans led the defense with 14 tackles, Seth Long had 12 and Ian Nadel 10.

— Jim Beseda contributed to this story

TIDINGS PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Clackamas' Chad Bletko makes one of his two touchdown catches in the Cavaliers' 41-20 loss to West Linn in the Class 6A state semifinals on Friday at Providence Park.