Prep football: Defense, special teams come up big in Bulldogs' quarterfinal win
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Prep football: Defense, special teams come up big in Bulldogs' quarterfinal win

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The West Albany High defense and special teams set the tone Friday night against an Ashland squad that had little trouble scoring this season.

But the Bulldogs were on their ‘A’ game, making the Grizzlies look like just another opponent as the offense took full advantage of what it was given.

West had three takeaways and the punt and kickoff teams created a field position advantage in a 41-15 win in an OSAA 5A football quarterfinal at Memorial Stadium.

The second-ranked Bulldogs (11-0) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in a little more than 13 minutes. The sixth-ranked Grizzlies (9-2) closed back within 13, but that only lasted three minutes as the West offense got into gear.

“They were challenged. They knew they were challenged,” Bulldogs coach Brian Mehl said of his defense. “I thought we did a good job of taking the ball away … and those turnovers are crucial. Our defense played really kind of steady Eddie the whole night. Took away the big plays, made them earn it.

“Our punt team was really good tonight. (Austin) Leeper is an excellent punter and our kickoff team was really sound, too.”

That moves the Bulldogs into a semifinal matchup next Saturday with No. 3 Crater, which defeated No. 5 Parkrose 49-0 in Central Point on Friday night. The semifinal time and location will be announced.

West recovered a fumble by Ashland running back DaMario Watson on the first play of the game. The Bulldogs were in the end zone two plays later on quarterback Carson Van Dyke’s 13-yard run.

Punts of 55 and 47 yards by Leeper later in the opening quarter helped the Bulldogs change field position. The second backed Ashland to its own 1.

On the ensuing play, Luke Killinger stepped in front of a receiver for an interception of Rieger Sayre and returned the ball 15 yards for a score.

“The safety called the right call and I just happened to be in the right spot. I remember I had a safety on top of me and I could take a risk,” said Killinger, a junior defensive back.

The Bulldogs knew Ashland would be the most consistent passing team they have faced this season, and they went to work to get ready. Sayre finished 15 of 29 for 202 yards and two interceptions.

“It was definitely a focus during the week,” Killinger said. “We were preparing for it, and the scout guys did a really good job with the pass game and showing us what to do.”

Another Leeper punt, this time a 42-yarder late in the first, had Ashland at its own 5. A quick three-and-out, aided by TJ Zimmermann knocking away a third-down pass, and a 10-yard Blake Bowers punt return set up another short field.

On the next play, Van Dyke hit Caeden Zamora, who got behind the defense, for a 31-yard touchdown pass for a 21-0 lead with 10:49 left in the second quarter.

Ashland answered back with a 34-yard reception in what turned into a 66-yard drive and a 4-yard touchdown catch for Nolan Rinefort to make it interesting.

But West responded quickly, starting with a 42-yard Porter Phillips run. Phillips and Blake Bowers each had 10-yard runs on a possession that Van Dyke finished with a 2-yard touchdown run to lead 27-7 at halftime.

The Bulldogs ended the suspense with a Phillips 6-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the second half. Connor Wolfe had an 11-yard catch then another for 58 down the left sideline to set up the Phillips score.

West’s Seth Jackson had the other pick of Sayre on a deep ball in the second half.

“He’s our kicker He’s a standout at corner. He’s been really consistent all year,” Mehl said.

Phillips scored on a 17-yard run early in the fourth quarter. The senior had 132 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Zack Cehrs added 93 yards on 17 carries.

Van Dyke had three carries for double-digit yards but finished with 10 yards overall with sacks and negative runs included. He was 3-of-11 passing for 100 yards.

Watson, the Grizzles’ lead back, was held to 57 yards on 19 carries. Ashland scored the game's final two points on a safety after the Bulldogs had stopped the Grizzlies on a drive to the West 1.

“You want to play complementary football if you’re going to win these games late,” Mehl said. “Really, really proud of the guys and the effort.”

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