PORTLAND -- In a sense, the second-ranked West Linn Lions were messengers Friday night when they rolled to a 28-14 nonleague football win at No. 6 Sunset.
The seniors from last season, who led them to a 6-0 record and staked a claim on the unofficial 6A title, wanted them to deliver a message to the Apollos, who also were perfect in the spring and made their own case for statewide supremacy.
“It felt good. We kind of hushed the debate of who the champions were last year,” West Linn junior receiver Mark Hamper said. “That senior class texted pretty much all of us, 'Go get it done.' And we came out here and we got the job done.
“We wanted to leave no doubt.”
The Lions (3-0) drove 78 ,70 and 51 yards for touchdowns on their first three possessions to lead 21-0 and were never seriously threatened by the Apollos (2-1). Senior quarterback Chase Harmon completed 21 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns and senior Jaxon Steinhauer ran for a career-high 104 yards and a score on 21 carries.
“Oh yeah, we wanted to do this not only for us, but for the seniors that left,” Steinhauer said, “because they believed that they were the best team last year, and I knew for a fact that we were. It was just good to come out here and get this win for not only us, but for the seniors ahead of us.”
It was a convincing win, but West Linn coach Chris Miller believed the Lions could have put the game out of reach early if they had capitalized on other opportunities.
“I'm not satisfied. I'll just be honest,” Miller said. “I mean, it's a good win, it's nice to win. But I have high expectations.”
Harmon threw touchdown passes of 59 yards to senior Barret Brundage and five yards to Hamper to make it 14-0. Steinhauer scored on a three-yard run as the lead grew to 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Sunset kept fighting, though, and finally got on the board late in the third quarter when senior Mason Ebenal strip-sacked Harmon and senior Padraig Owens picked up the loose ball and ran 45 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 21-7.
West Linn answered with a 14-play, 84-yard drive that consumed 8:15 and culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Harmon to sophomore Gus Donnerberg, making it 28-7.
It was enough to finally sink Sunset.
“I think we're coming along nicely as a team,” Harmon said. “It's crazy, but we've got a long way to go still. This wasn't a perfect game by any means, and we still came up with a 28-14 victory on the road against a top-five team.”
Harmon has thrown 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions in three varsity starts.
“I'm still learning. I've got a bunch of stuff left to go,” Harmon said. “It's only up from here for me, as well.”
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Hamper once again was a two-way standout for the Lions. On offense, he caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also was a physical force at linebacker, on one play taking the ball away from Sunset senior tight end Michael Ostby after a catch.
“We're young, new offense, so our defense is going to have to make plays for our offense to make up for mistakes, and that's exactly what we did tonight,” said Hamper, who had interceptions in each of the first two games.
Sunset senior quarterback Grady Newsom finished 17 of 26 for 228 yards and one touchdown, a 35-yard strike to senior Hayden Hurley in the fourth quarter. Senior tight end Aiden Kimbo had five catches for 110 yards.
Running was much more difficult for the Apollos, though, as standout senior Caleb Kim was held to 30 yards on eight carries.
“We thought we were prepared,” Kim said. “They're a really good football team, and we're a really good football team, and they outdid us tonight. Our team is still one of the top teams. I think if we played them again, got another shot at them, it would be a different outcome. This is a hard loss, but our team doesn't back down.”
Hurley liked how the Apollos competed after halftime.
“First half, we were playing a little bit timid, but second half we stepped up big and we showed everyone who we actually are, who we know we are,” Hurley said. “And next time we see them in December, November, it's going to be a different outcome.”
Sunset was playing uphill all night against West Linn, which finished with a 389-230 edge in total yards.
“We kind of got our heads down after that first quarter,” Newsom said. “We got punched in the mouth. We hadn't really been stopped that much on offense this year, and we got stopped that first half. We came out in the second half with a new mentality, and I thought we answered back a little bit better.”