OREGON CITY – West Linn's torrid tour through 6A football produced another show-stopping performance Friday night at Pioneer Memorial Stadium.
And this time, it came in the semifinals against two-time reigning state champion Central Catholic.
The top-seeded Lions executed with precision and unleashed their usual barrage of big plays to bury the No. 5 Rams 49-17. West Linn built a 42-10 lead at half and posted its sixth consecutive running-clock win.
How are the Lions so consistently dominant?
“We've got the best coaching staff in the state,” senior receiver Mark Hamper said. “When they prepare us like that, that's the result you get with the athletes we have. Just all the praise to them.”
Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne tipped his cap to the Lions, who lost in the semifinals last year.
“They're clicking,” Pyne said. “They've gotten a lot better as the season's progressed. They're impressive.”
With the win, West Linn (11-1) advances to the 6A final for the first time since winning its only title in 2016. The Lions will face the only team that has beaten them this season, No. 2 Sheldon (12-0), which won at West Linn 35-31 in Week 2.
“I'm excited. Round 2,” Lions senior quarterback Sam Leavitt said. “We need it. I want them. I want to go back and get that dub.”
The Washington State-bound Leavitt was the catalyst for an offense that racked up 516 yards against Central Catholic (10-2). He completed 10 of 16 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 62 yards and one score on five carries. He even had a 17-yard catch on an end-around pass from junior Wiley Donnerberg.
Leavitt showed off his arm with pinpoint passes deep down the field, four times connecting for gains of 47 yards or more.
“The quarterback is on fire,” first-year West Linn coach Jon Eagle said of Leavitt, who has passed for 2,934 yards and 36 touchdowns this season after transferring from Westview. “He made some amazing throws. I always say, 'That's what a Power 5 arm looks like when he's in high school.'”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hamper had six catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 1,380 receiving yards and 19 scoring catches for the season. Hamper credited Leavitt, calling him the best player in the state.
“Nothing really surprises me what he does,” Hamper said. “It's just the norm now.”
Hamper had catches of 59 and 47 yards and touchdown grabs of 27 and nine yards. On the 27-yard score, Leavitt threw a laser to Hamper between three defenders at the five-yard line.
“That's a big-time throw,” Eagle said.
The game started on a sour note for the Lions. On their second play, Leavitt tried to throw a screen pass but it was intercepted by Rams junior lineman Matix Carpenter at the West Linn 15-yard line. Central Catholic took a 7-0 lead on a three-yard run by junior Cade Gehlen.
“It was a little shocker at first,” Leavitt said.
But the Lions scored touchdowns on their next six possessions to lead 42-7. Senior Earl Ingle scored on two one-yard runs and senior Koffi Kouame ran for a one-yard touchdown to make it 21-7. Leavitt connected with Hamper for a 27-yard touchdown, ran for a nine-yard score, then hit Donnerberg for a 57-yard touchdown.
Central Catholic got a 34-yard field goal from senior Bo Robertson as time expired in the first half to avoid a running clock, but the Lions got the running clock midway through the third quarter when Hamper won a jump ball in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown catch.
The early deficit didn't faze the Lions.
“We're a team that has proven we respond well from adversity,” Hamper said. “We weren't afraid when the moment came. We stepped right up to the battle and we responded pretty well, I'd say. I love this team. We're just all fighters, all competitors.”
Central Catholic's offense struggled with penalties and turnovers. The Rams, who entered with three turnovers all season, had four against West Linn. Three of them were interceptions by junior quarterback Cru Newman, who had thrown only one pick through 11 games.
“I was just moving too fast, not letting the game slow down for me,” said Newman, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. “I made a lot of mistakes that cost us a big game. I need to be better. Obviously, I wasn't.”
All three turnovers in the first half led to West Linn touchdowns.
“You can't give good teams like that extra opportunities,” Pyne said. “I don't know if it would've made a huge difference in the outcome, but we might have been in the game in the fourth quarter.”
West Linn senior Jackson Shelstad had two interceptions and sophomore Danny Wideman had an interception and a fumble recovery.
Shelstad, committed to Oregon for basketball, turned out for football this season and is making his mark on both sides of the ball. He had three touchdown catches in the quarterfinals and caught a two-point conversion Friday.
“What people don't know about Jackson is he was the best eighth-grade middle-school player of all-time,” Hamper said. “He's been doing this since sixth, seventh, eighth grade. I've seen this for six years, but it's cool for him to show the state that he can do so many different things.”
Shelstad said that playing under the lights on Friday nights is “special.”
“Basketball and football, it's kind of a different feeling out there,” he said. “I'm having a blast this season with all my friends and teammates. We've got a great team. It's been a lot of fun playing with these dudes. They all love to compete, have fun.”
Kouame, who ran for five touchdowns in the first two playoff games, rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries.