La Salle all but locks up a berth in the Class 4A playoffs with a 31-21 victory over their rivals
by: craig mitchelldyer, Gladstone defenders found La Salle junior running back Chris Nagel hard to stop last Thursday, as Nagel rushed for 175 yards in a 31-21 La Salle victory.

GLADSTONE - La Salle gained an inside track on earning a spot in postseason play Friday, as the Falcons racked up 448 yards in offense and knocked off Capital Conference leader Gladstone 31-21 on the Gladiators' home field.

'I'm very excited!' said La Salle senior co-captain Mark Meek. 'We've never been to the playoffs the whole time I've been at La Salle. This puts us in great position to make the playoffs….

'It feels great to beat our rivals on their home field!'

The Falcon win left Gladstone and La Salle in second place in the Capital Conference with identical 3-1 records and two conference games remaining.

La Salle has yet to play winless Estacada (0-7, 0-4) and North Marion (4-2, 1-2); Gladstone has conference games remaining with league-leading Molalla (6-1, 3-0) and Stayton (3-4, 2-1). Three teams from the conference will advance to postseason play.

Last week's 31-21 win over Gladstone did not come easily. The Falcons trailed 14-3 early in the second quarter, and they had to come up with some huge defensive plays after the intermission in order to put the Gladiators away.

La Salle linebackers Michael Becker, Chris Nagel and Duncan Mitchell came through with key defensive stops in the second half that helped secure the win.

The Falcons put three touchdowns on the scoreboard late in the second period to build a 24-14 lead.

But the Gladiators appeared headed for a comeback as they came out in the second half with a newfound intensity.

Gladstone marched with the second-half kickoff inside the Falcon 20, before Becker said 'no way,' claiming a Gladstone fumble at the Falcon 18.

Gladstone quarterback Mitch Foteff hooked up with junior wide receiver Darrell Fields for a 40-yard touchdown pass as the third quarter was winding down. Joe Kociemba's PAT kick split the uprights, and Gladstone was within 3, trailing 24-21, with plenty of game yet to play.

The Falcons tried to answer with a sustained drive on their next possession. But Kociemba recovered a Falcon fumble at the Gladstone 4-yard line, and the Gladiators were back in business.

Gladstone's offense fired up, and in just six plays the Gladiators were approaching the midfield stripe. Enter Mitchell, who claimed another Gladiator fumble for La Salle.

Six plays later, Nagel reached the end zone on a 12-yard sprint, and the Falcons had a more comfortable lead, at 31-21.

Nagel picked off a wayward aerial on the Gladiators' ensuing possession, and the game belonged to La Salle.

There were wide swings in momentum in the first half.

Hicks threw a 55-pass to Cam Keeney on the game's first play from scrimmage, and a few plays later Austin Thul's 25-yard field goal put La Salle up 3-0.

The Falcons went on the march again on their next possession, and they were knocking at the door, when Gladstone defensive back Brady Regier picked off a halfback pass and returned it 93 yards for a 7-3 Gladiator lead.

La Salle punted, and Gladstone ran off nine straight plays, with quarterback Mitch Foteff taking the ball in from the 5 for a 14-3 Gladiator lead.

La Salle answered with an 88-yard drive. Vince Hicks took the ball in from the 3 at the midpoint of the third quarter, to trim Gladstone's lead to 14-10.

A short time later, Hicks hit Keeney on the numbers from 31 yards out for another Falcon score, and La Salle owned its first lead, at 17-14.

A failed attempt at a fourth-down conversion on a fake punt set up another Falcon score in the closing seconds of the first half. Hicks fired a 13-yard bullet to Keeney, who was streaking across the middle, and La Salle was up 24-14 heading into the intermission.

Nagel had a great night on both sides of the football. Besides his defensive heroics, the 5-10, 205-pound two-way starter, rushed 29 times for 175 yards.

But the Falcons could not have pulled it off without a stellar performance from Hicks. The 6-1, 190-pound junior rushed eight times for 72 yards and a touchdown, and he completed 11-of-20 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns; Keeney made six catches for 124 yards.

La Salle coach Mike Fanger said he was pleased with his ball club's progress, especially on defense.

'Our defense is improving every week,' Fanger said. 'My hat's off to our defensive coaching staff and our defensive players for stopping Jordan Aldredge. He had a couple of big plays, but he never broke the long one.'

Aldredge, one of the top offensive players in the Capital Conference, had only 75 yards rushing on the night, and he never reached the end zone.

Fanger added, 'Our offense is also getting stronger. But they couldn't have done it without the offensive line.'

The Falcon grid boss heaped praise on offensive linemen Tim Neil, Brian Lockner, Matt Jette, Kevin Yandle, Logan Collier and Eric Whalen for getting the job done in the trenches.

La Salle hosts Estacada this Friday. Gladstone takes a break from conference action this Friday, traveling to Cottage Grove for a nonleague contest with the Lions.

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