The journey from West Linn High School into Oregon City measures just over a mile, but on Friday night, the Lions showed there were still many miles between their football program and Oregon City's.
The defending state champion Lions, visiting Oregon City in the 97th annual Battle for the Bridge matchup — both teams' season opener — proved that convincingly on Friday, scoring 42 unanswered points to beat the Pioneers 42-7 at Pioneer Memorial Stadium. The win marked West Linn's fifth straight victory in the series.
"It was a good team win," said West Linn linebacker Luke Hamper, who made a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. "Everyone just did their job."
"A lot of guys really stepped up and it was a true team effort," Lions coach Chris Miller said. "This game showed me a lot."
The win, West Linn's 15th straight and 22nd in its last 23 games, lifted the Lions' early-season record to 1-0, while Oregon City lost for a fifth straight time and fell to 0-1. This week, West Linn hosts South Medford (1-0 after a 35-7 win over Wilsonville on Friday) at 7 p.m. Friday, while Oregon City plays at Canby (1-0 after a 35-14 win over Reynolds) at 7 p.m. Friday.
"West Linn is a good football team and we're starting everything new from scratch," said Oregon City's first-year coach Dustin Janz. "A new offense, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and new in a lot of places."
While West Linn won easily, it was Oregon City that grabbed the early lead on Friday. Teron Bradford intercepted a pass intended for Keishon Dawkins in the end zone and returned it to the 33-yard line. From there, 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 to give his team an early 7-0 lead.
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, West Linn quarterback Ethan 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 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 turning point on that series came on fourth-and-four from the Oregon City 14 when Long fired a short pass to Ahmir McGee as he streaked from right to left over the middle. McGee had enough for the first down as he caught the ball, but he turned, broke a couple tackles and powered into the end zone.
Long completed 15 of 20 passes for 228 yards and two first-half touchdowns 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 105 yards and one touchdown, McGee had nine carries for 44 yards, and Tyler Good added five carries for 20 yards. Ntsasa led all receivers with seven catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 22-yard scoring strike from Iverson in the fourth quarter.
"We had some adversity, but fought through it and held Oregon City after that first drive," Hamper said.
"We started with a little adversity and (we're) really pleased with how we finished," Miller said. "We didn't put our heads down and kind of feel sorry for ourselves."
For their part, the Pioneers celebrated those things they did right and vowed to learn from their mistakes.
"Early on, we did OK," Janz said. "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."
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.
— From staff reports