Class 6A football semifinal playoff preview: No. 1 West Linn Lions vs. No. 5 Central Catholic Rams

The Central Catholic Rams are the Class 6A two-time defending champions. They have a chance to etch their names into the history books for prep football in Oregon.

The Rams don’t seem to be getting the respect a team with their pedigree should be receiving in the playoffs. The talk regarding which team is the favorite to win the state title focuses primarily on the West Linn Lions and Sheldon Irish.

Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne said he’s all good with the lack of attention.

“I love it. I absolutely love it. Let everybody talk about everybody else,” Pyne said. “I don’t disagree with that. The youth and inexperience of our team going into the season – we probably should’ve been that third or fourth or fifth team in that conversation. I’m all right with that.”

The No. 5-seeded Rams (10-1) will face the top-seeded Lions in a semifinal game on Friday. The Rams are attempting to become the first team since the 1954-56 Marshfield Pirates to win three consecutive state titles at the state’s highest classification.

The Rams took another step toward achieving that goal after defeating the Jesuit Crusaders 23-20 in a grueling and physical quarterfinal game. Pyne said he hopes the win against the Crusaders – their third consecutive win over Jesuit – will erase what he says is the Rams’ reputation as a “finesse” team.

“I think we get labeled as a finesse team and I disagree with that, especially defensively,” Pyne said. “We challenge our kids every week to be the most physical team on the field. I feel like we’re a physical team.”

Rams’ junior quarterback Cru Newman completed 13 of 24 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns during the win against Jesuit. He also ran 15 times for 90 yards. Newman threw scoring passes to junior running back Cade Gehlen and sophomore wide receiver Zhaiel Smith.

Newman has completed 22 of 39 passes for 327 yards with four touchdowns in two playoff games. Newman has also rushed 21 times for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’ve had a lot of good quarterbacks over the years,” Pyne said. “If he’s not the best quarterback to ever play at this school, I’d like to hear who was a better one at the high school level.”

The Rams defense continues to play very well and the unit held Jesuit’s punishing rushing attack in check. Jesuit running back Payton Roth ran 31 times for 161 yards, he didn’t produce multiple explosive runs in the game.

Jesuit’s 20 points were the most allowed in a game by the Rams during their current nine-game winning streak. They have allowed a total of 60 points and an average of 6.6 points a game during the streak.

“Our defense has been playing lights out all year,” Pyne said. “We’ve got a big challenge in front of us this Friday.”

That challenge is in the form of the high-scoring Lions (10-1). The West Linn offense is far more diversified than the run-centric Crusaders.

The Lions’ offense starts with senior quarterback Sam Leavitt. Leavitt, who has committed to Washington State, is capable of hurting a defense with his arm or his legs.

Leavitt threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Jackson Shelstad during the Lions’ 56-7 win over Sherwood in a quarterfinal game Friday. Leavitt ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in their romp against the Grant Generals in a first-round game. Leavitt has produced the numbers while playing barely more than two quarters in each of the first two playoff games.

“He throws an amazing ball and he’s got a big arm,” Pyne said. “He’s good at keeping plays alive as well. He can move out of the pocket when it breaks down and keep his eyes down the field. He’s a playmaker.”

Both teams are capable of scoring plenty of points, and this game could be a high-scoring contest. The Rams aren’t thinking about history, they’re just focused on being able to practice one more week.

“Our goal every year is to be practicing on the last Monday of the season,” Pyne said. “That means we’ve earned an opportunity to play in that final game. That’s the focus of the kids right now, can we get to that Monday.”

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