DALLAS — In a land where there is almost no room for error, the clutch play is king.
Fifth-ranked Lebanon made four of them in the last eight minutes against feisty Dallas on Friday night and came back from a five-point deficit with two touchdowns to beat the No. 10 Dragons 28-20 in a 5A Mid-Willamette Conference football game.
There is no underestimating what a road victory in the MWC — think of it as the old Valley League — means this year. Conference play started on opening day, so there was no preseason game to hone anything or answer any unsolved questions.
“Our league is good, and super competitive,” understated Warriors coach Ty Tomlin. “Any kind of a win on the road builds that confidence. There’s not a lot of slip-up room if you want to be on the top of our league.”
At the moment, it’s a three-way tie at 2-0 among Silverton, West Albany and now the Warriors.
That was because of two critical drives and four huge plays the Warriors executed when the game reached gotta-have-it time.
The Lebanon comeback began right after the Warriors stopped the Dragons on the Warrior 16 when Dallas missed a 33-yard field goal that would have given it a 23-15 lead.
Instead, the miss gave Lebanon a chance. The way Dallas was moving the ball — and the clock — on the ground, there wouldn’t be many other opportunities.
The Warriors drove all 84 yards in 11 plays to take the lead back at 21-20 on Brock Barrett’s three-yard run with 6:17 left in the game. Along the way, they made two huge plays.
The first came on a fourth down, 4 yards to go situation on their own 44. Keith Brown dropped back in punt formation, but the snap went to up back Dane Sipos, who fled down the right sideline to the Dallas 23-yard line.
The Dragons stiffened again, and two plays later, the Warriors faced a third and 13 at the Dallas 26. Junior quarterback Cole Weber dropped back and flung the ball down the middle to Sipos, who went up between two Dragon defenders and haul it in at the Dallas 3. Two plays later, Barrett was in the end zone.
“I saw him all the way,” Weber said. “They had some pressure on me, but my line was buying me some time. I just trusted my guy to get open. He made a great play.”
Dragon coach Andy Jackson knew the pass was coming.
“On that pass we sent pressure and got the pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “We knew where they were going and we had two guys on him. The kid just made a great play.”
Now the Warriors were back in command, but Landon Gardner, Dallas’ dangerous senior quarterback, still had time and a lot of weapons around him.
The Warriors were equal to the moment. A holding penalty and a sack of Gardner put the Dragons in a third and 27 situation, so Gardner went deep with a pass. Lebanon was in big coverage, and Zachary Birchem went up for the interception at the 50.
Lebanon drove in again, in eight plays — one of which was a slick reverse to Sipos on third and 10 that gained 30 yards and put the Warriors in business at the Dallas 20 with 3:08 left. Brown’s short burst with :37.4 seconds left cinched the win.
Sort of. The Dragons geared down to desperation mode and almost did the impossible. As the clock ticked under 10 seconds, Gardner threw across the field to Ryan Nguyen, who fled 48 yards to the Lebanon 21 with 3.2 seconds left.
He wanted to spike the ball to give his team one more play, but he was a tenth of a second too late and the game was over.
“We practice those plays,” Tomlin said of the critical calls the Warriors executed. “And I was thinking that we’ve got to find a way to make a play because if we give the ball back to them, given what they were doing to us we may not see it again.
“We had to keep the ball in our favor.”
They did. An it saved the game.