MCMINNVILLE — A football season that had a lot of questions at the start ended 10 wins later in the state semifinals.
West Albany High’s Class 5A postseason road ended Friday night, 44-14 at the hands of Mid-Willamette Conference champion Silverton, which gave the Bulldogs both their losses this fall.
“When we started in our jamboree I honestly thought we weren’t going to be very good,” senior quarterback Michael Cale said of his team’s first time against competition back in late August. “We got a lot of criticism from a lot of people, and I think going 10-2 is pretty impressive. We overcame adversity and battled through it.”
West trailed in the second half of several games this season and only came up short twice.
Four weeks ago, the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns late at Silverton and had the final possession but came up 18 yards short of a potential tying score, falling 28-21.
Friday night, the top-ranked and second-seeded Foxes took the lead on the game’s first score and never relinquished it.
Fourth-ranked and third-seeded West battled back, with Cale finding DeMarcus Houston in the back corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 10-7 with 3:11 left before halftime.
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But Silverton’s answer came just one play later as Austin Ratliff got behind the defense and hauled in a 72-yard touchdown catch. Less than a minute later, the Foxes’ Austin Meyer blocked a Gavin Miller punt and recovered it in the end zone for another score.
West snuffed out another Silverton scoring attempt before halftime when Bryce Bowers sacked McCarty and Chase Barnes recovered a fumble on the play.
The Bulldogs reached the Foxes 32 in closing seconds of the half, but McCarty intercepted Cale near the sideline.
Early in the third quarter, Ratliff escaped containment in the Bulldogs’ defensive backfield again and scored on a 37-yard pass.
Silverton scored twice more, including a Vandon Fessler 39-yard interception return with 11:48 remaining to create a running-clock situation as the margin had reached 35.
Cale hit Donavyn Weddle with a 30-yard touchdown pass with 2:16 remaining to complete the scoring.
Silverton will meet Thurston in next Saturday’s championship. The fifth-seeded Colts defeated top-seeded Wilsonville 34-14 Friday night in Keizer.
West’s season started with come-from-behind wins against Beaverton (21-17), Canby (17-14) and Dallas (21-9).
After losing to Silverton the first time, the Bulldogs closed the regular season with a 41-27 win against Corvallis then got past Scappoose (35-0) and Dallas (28-9) in the playoffs.
“I’m going to remember the resiliency of this group and the adversity we had early in the season. The toughness that they demonstrated all season long,” West coach Brian Mehl said. “Then we put on a really good run to end the year. It’s a group I’m extremely proud of.”
Cale passed for 172 yards with the two scores and three picks. Tyler Hart-McNally and Brock Nelson each caught four passes, for 45 and 27 yards, respectively.
As they did in the first game against Silverton, the Bulldogs struggled to run the ball. West rushed for 51 yards on 25 attempts, though 49 of those yards came on 11 carries on the final drive after the game had long been decided. Marcus Allen led the team with 36 yards on four carries.
Houston recorded a team-high seven tackles.
McCarty threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Ratliff had 172 yards on six catches. Teammate Alex Briseno rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries.
There were doubts about what this version of West Albany football could accomplish following the graduation of two solid classes, including a group of seniors that led the Bulldogs to the 2019 state semifinals.
But the program got back to the semis again and has a strong corps of underclassmen to begin building the foundation for the 2022 team.
“I think everyone put their heart and soul into every single game and every single play,” Cale said. “I’m beyond proud of every single player on this team.”
Jesse Sowa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JesseSowaGT.