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High school football: Bulldog defense closes the door on Warriors
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High school football: Bulldog defense closes the door on Warriors

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West Albany High won the defensive and special teams phases and thus the game against Lebanon on Thursday night.

After the Bulldogs trailed 7-3 at halftime, the defense allowed no first downs in the second half and special teams played a big part in creating five short fields during the final two quarters.

The West offense wasn’t stellar, getting just 12 points out of those opportunities. But the defense closed many doors and the Bulldogs held on for a 21-7 win in a Mid-Willamette Conference football game at Memorial Stadium.

“We locked in and we played our game,” said Bulldogs senior defensive lineman Dakota Monson. “We all played our assignments very well. Our defensive line stayed home on their screen passes and just made good reads all around.”

After amassing just 77 yards in the first half, West (6-0, 4-0) put together a 63-yard drive to open the third quarter. A 13-yard run by Tyler Hart-McNally and a 13-yard pass from Michael Cale to Brysen Kachel helped set up Cale’s 1-yard keeper for a touchdown.

The Bulldogs, who share the third spot in the OSAA 5A coaches poll with conference rival Silverton this week, then recovered a pooched kickoff at the Lebanon 32 but eventually turned it over on downs at the 20.

The West defense then forced a punt and DeMarcus Houston’s 29-yard return set up the offense at the Lebanon 6.

But all the Bulldogs got was the second of Juan Zaragoza-Perez’s three field goals in the game, this one from 27 yards. He also had a 29-yarder in the first quarter after West reached the Warriors’ 1 but went backwards before Zaragoza-Perez put one through the uprights from 29.

Later in the third quarter, West’s Jack Moyes recovered a muffed punt catch at the Lebanon 25, and after reaching the 6 the Bulldogs got another field goal, with Zaragoza-Perez from 23.

“Juan, he’s just a natural kicker. Juan was great. He had a couple big kicks,” West coach Brian Mehl said of Zaragoza-Perez, who plays on the school’s boys soccer team.

In the fourth, Riley Paxton intercepted a pass from Lebanon quarterback Dre Smith and returned it 17 yards to the Warriors 26. Five snaps later, West’s Anthony Vestal ran it in from 3 yards out.

“I’m proud of those guys,” Mehl said of his defense. “Second-half football felt like how things have been here for a while. We kind of got our momentum and mojo back a little bit. The defense was outstanding. They didn’t have to play a lot of plays in the second half because it felt like the ball was in our offense’s hands the whole time and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Warriors (2-4, 2-2) were coming off a 37-27 home win against Corvallis. But Thursday they couldn’t find that same offensive spark.

“Defense played hard. They got some really big stops for us,” Lebanon assistant coach Jeff Stolsig said of his team. “We didn’t execute like we wanted to in the second half offensively. There’s a few plays, a penalty here, a muffed punt there, that could help us as well. We just need to be more disciplined as a team, as individuals and get better.”

Brayden Burton was Lebanon’s leading rusher, covering 73 yards on 14 carries.

Smith was 5-of-12 passing for 66 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Brayden Currey, the team’s leading receiver with two catches for 38 yards, caught that touchdown late in the second quarter when Smith was forced to scramble out of the pocket but found a leaping Currey in the front of the end zone.

Lebanon was without head coach Troy Walker, who was quarantining due to COVID, Stolsig said.

“The kids and the staff responded very well this week. The kids are great, the coaching staff is great,” Stolsig said. “Troy hates not being here. But it’s just one of those things, he can’t be here.”

Hart-McNally led West in rushing with 85 yards on 20 carries. Cale picked up 17 yards on six attempts.

Cale was 8-of-24 passing for 97 yards and two interceptions, with both of those passes picked off by Lebanon’s Tyler Flores. Paxton had three catches for 41 yards.

“I think the big thing tonight that was different than the last three or four weeks is we took the ball away,” Mehl said. “When our defense takes the ball away, I just feel like we’re a different team. The whole energy is different.”

Next week, West hosts South Albany on Thursday and Lebanon is home against Dallas on Friday.

Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at jesse.sowa@lee.net or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.

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