Sheldon beats Lions for the second time this …

Sheldon beats Lions for the second time this season to reach 6A semifinals
by OSAAtoday

Sheldon QB Michael Johnson, Jr. finds open space to scamper for an Irish first down, something he did often on Friday night.
Sheldon QB Michael Johnson, Jr. finds open space to scamper for an Irish first down, something he did often on Friday night.

Sheldon scored on its first six possessions Friday night to take control of a 6A football quarterfinal with West Linn. Dominating on the ground, the Irish (10-2) opened up a 38-13 lead at halftime and held on to win 38-26, defeating the Lions for the second time in as many tries this year.

“It was a tough, hard-fought game,” said Sheldon head coach Josh Line. “West Linn is a helluva team. They battled back but that’s the way these games go. We’re at the point in the season where we’re playing good football teams. I’m really excited for our kids and families, the school and community.”

Sheldon won the toss and needed only three plays to give the home fans something to cheer about. Facing third and seven from his own 39-yard-line, senior quarterback Michael Johnson, Jr. found senior wide out Zach Folsom all alone behind the safety and hit him in stride for a 61-yard scoring strike.

“We’ve been practicing the play all week,” Folsom said. “I was just doing my job. The line kept Michael protected and Michael threw a nice ball.”

West Linn (8-4) answered back immediately. On its first play from scrimmage, speedy senior running back Dawson Jolley ran 65 yards to the Sheldon 12-yard-line. The drive might have stalled but for a supreme second and third effort by Jolley on fourth and short to pick up the needed yardage. Jolley eventually scored on a short burst but Sheldon blocked the extra point attempt, leaving the Irish up one at 7-6.

Sheldon moved methodically through the West Linn defense on its next drive to add to its lead. Johnson, Jr., who left last week’s win over Sherwood with a lower leg injury, looked in fine form on one elusive scramble after another as the Irish moved downfield. Tailback Matthew Burgess capped the drive with a scoring run, the first of three straight touchdowns for the elusive senior, as Sheldon opened up a 28-6 lead midway through the second quarter.

Sheldon tacked on a 25-yard field goal by Jay Kartub to extend its lead before West Linn got on the board again late in the half. Long hit senior wide out Cade Knutson on a 78-yard catch and run to the Irish two-yard line and the Lions cashed in on a fourth-and-four gadget play when received Casey Tawa took a reverse and shot putted the ball to Jake Mastandrea for the score.

Any momentum West Linn might have created, however, was blunted by Sheldon’s hurry-up offense, which moved swiftly downfield on the legs of Johnson, Jr. and a 34-yard pass to Folsom. Johnson, Jr. capped the drive with a five-yard scoring scramble with 11 ticks left on the clock, extending the Irish lead to 38-13 at the half.

West Linn dominated the second half, as Sheldon penalties cratered its drives and West Linn overcame its own fumble and interception to score twice on Jolley runs. But the Lions were never able to make the hard-hitting Irish nervous as the game ticked to its final conclusion.

“I was proud of how we competed in the second half,” said Lion head coach Chris Miller, a former star quarterback at Sheldon. “We didn’t give up any points and gave ourselves a chance.”

Jolley finished with 177 yards rushing and three scores for West Linn. Long was 19-for-28 through the air for 234 yards, but two interceptions and a lost fumble on a mishandled shotgun snap proved costly.

“We’re our own worst enemy sometimes,” said Miller. “Against the best teams we seem to turn the ball over the most. And some are giveaways: dropped snaps, not seeing things clearly. Coming out at halftime we had a good vibe, a good feeling, and we fumble the kickoff. We had a skinny post wide open for a TD, then we’re down on the four and have two guys wide open. We just missed them. Against good teams the margins are much thinner. We didn’t take advantage of them but tip your hat to them. They’re a very good football team, very polished with a lot of good football players. And that quarterback is a difference maker.”

Johnson, Jr., a Penn State recruit, threw that touchdown pass early but did most of his damage on the ground. He carried 18 times for 69 yards, according to Sheldon’s coaches, and was especially effective moving the chains with his feet when pass plays were not open.

“We’re explosive and can put points on the board but we can’t have penalties,” said Line. “If we play mistake free and execute we’re usually good at moving the ball. The lesson is we’re good when we do that; we’re really not good when we don’t. We had three drives in a row in the second half killed by penalties. We’re resilient; we were able to overcome. We have a great defense. They did a great job. And the offense got the yards they needed at the end.”

Burgess complemented Johnson, Jr.’s rushing effectiveness with 143 yards on the ground himself on 28 totes.

“We had great blocking,” he said. “Everyone was executing really well and we played well as a team together. We had a great week of practice. We were sharp and focused all week.”

Sheldon won the turnover battle, 4-1, and also was very physical on defense, punishing Jolley and Long at every opportunity.

“I don’t think they were ready for us to come out that hard,” said senior linebacker Austin Lasby, who recovered the first-quarter Long fumble that helped Sheldon open up a two-touchdown lead. “We came hard and they didn’t expect it at all.”

Sheldon coach Line heaped praise after the game on Lasby, who was at the center of Sheldon’s defensive effort.

“He is one of the most improved players that I’ve ever coached,” Line said. “He is so resilient. He battled so hard for us. We wouldn’t be where we are right now if it weren’t for him and others like him. He’s a Sheldon Irish football player.”

The win propelled Sheldon into the 6A semifinals for the first time since 2015 when current Duck signal caller Justin Herbert was a senior. The Irish will take on reigning champion Clackamas, which rolled over Liberty to extend its winning streak to 26 games in a row.

“They’re a good opponent,” said Burgess. “We’re going to prepare the same, stay sharp all week and hopefully come out ahead. It’s great to get another week with these guys. We’re like a family and want to keep going.”

Line echoed Burgess’ comments.

“We need to get ready for Monday practice,” he said. “Time to do it again. We earned the opportunity to play one more week.”

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