West Linn found itself grasping for Elijah Elliott and coming up empty all night long. Photo by Brad Cantor
West Linn found itself grasping for Elijah Elliott and coming up empty all night long. Photo by Brad Cantor

HILLSBORO -- Playmakers make plays. Central Catholic has lots of playmakers. They made lots of plays. The result was a 42-35 6A playoff quarterfinal win Friday night over West Linn in the OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union State Championships.

Senior QB Cade Knighton threw touchdown passes to four different receivers, Elijah Elliott had a big night on the ground and both Silas Starr and Kalvin Souders had TD receptions and interceptions for the Rams, who led by three touchdowns before two late scoring drives engineered by West Linn reserve QB Blake DeBisschop put the Lions within an onside kick recovery of the chance to make the game interesting with 89 seconds remaining. When Jordan King recovered the kick for Central, all that remained was to kneel and to celebrate.

“Last week we started off hot against Newberg and we were impeded by our mistakes,” Knighton explained. “This week, we did what the coaches wanted us to do and executed.”

Central got off to a fast start just four plays into the game when Souders picked off West Linn QB Ethan Coleman. It took the Rams just three plays to go 59 yards for the score. A 43-yard pass to Starr on the first play put the ball deep in Lion territory. Elliott caught a pass in the flat two plays later and juked his way into the end zone from eight yards out.

Coleman was picked off again, this time by Starr, three plays later, giving Central Catholic possession at the West Linn 11-yard line. The Lion defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs only to give the ball back to the Rams on downs a few plays later. Central Catholic moved swiftly down the field but as it appeared the drive was stalling, Starr beat a double team in the back of the end zone on third and 13 to put the Rams up by two scores.

“We lost the turnover battle to a good team by two to zero,” said West Linn head coach Chris Miller. “Those are the things that will haunt us.”

West Linn showed resiliency by scoring twice in succession, late in the first quarter and late in the second, to make it a game. Gavin Haines, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half, scored both Lion touchdowns before the break.

West Linn had a chance to go into halftime tied, but yielded a good kickoff return to Elliott and then watched as Starr made a stupendous grab on fourth-and-18 good for 31 yards down to the Lion five-yard line. The Stanford-bound senior reached over two West Linn defenders on the sensational snag.

“That was huge,” Knighton said. “The previous play I took a shot to the ribs and kind of had the wind knocked out of me. I was able to step up in the pocket, my line held up and Silas made one hell of a catch.”

Two plays later, Souders outleaped a Lion for the go-ahead score with just three seconds left on the second-quarter clock.

Central Catholic faced another fourth down on its first possession of the second half and again made the play it needed to, as Knighton found Kimo Hiu crossing underneath for the necessary yardage. Elliott cashed that in from eight yards out, restoring the Rams’ two-touchdown lead.

West Linn (8-4) rallied to within one score on Haines’ third touchdown run of the game, but another Elliott scoring run and Knighton’s scoring toss to Hiu gave the Rams a 41-21 lead with 10 minutes remaining. Fourth quarter TD strikes from DeBisschop to Casey Tawa and Chase Fletcher made the line score more respectable, but the outcome never was seriously in doubt.

The loss marked the end of Miller’s six-year tenure at West Linn. Miller is headed to Texas to coach in the XFL. Under Miller, West Linn reached the quarterfinals or better every year and won a state title in 2016 by defeating Central Catholic, 62-7.

With the win, Central Catholic (10-2) advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2016. The Rams will play a Barlow team they beat by 39 points in late October. Knighton said his senior-dominated team will not overlook the Bruins.

“They’re a good team and well coached,” he explained. “Next week we’re going to take each day one at a time and do what we’re coached to do.”