Moral victories lost their appeal around the Tigard football team long, long ago.
The Tigers weren't interested in any sort of solace after nearly knocking out top-ranked Jesuit last week. Surely, Tigard looked the part of a state title contender, surprising the Crusaders with exotic offensive schemes, testy defense, and 18 new starters. But, for as well as the 2016 Class 6A runner ups played, there were points left out on the field and opportunities missed. Tigard would be the first to tell you that 34-28 overtime loss was the one that got away.
With room to grow and another talented Metro League road opponent in Southridge on their radar, the Tigers rebounded in resounding fashion, scoring on six of its first seven first half possessions to thump the Skyhawks 48-12 at Southridge High School on Friday.
"We were never satisfied — a close loss like that (to Jesuit) isn't good enough," Tigard senior offensive lineman Sean Ryan said. "It was just such a great bounce back from last week. Losing in overtime really ticked us off. We wanted to go hard and get the win today."
Still stewing over the Crusader setback, the Tigers came out of the gates focused and sharp, not daunted or despondent from opening week. Tigard was the model of efficiency, scoring on its first five drives of the half and six of its total first half possessions. Nearly every success came off the indomitable Tiger rushing attack and its hulking offensive line. Outweighing the speedy, but smaller Skyhawks up front, Tigard ruled the line of scrimmage and controlled the point of attack, which allowed, running backs Spencer Smith, Malcolm Stockdale and wide receivers Max and Braden Lenzy to unleash their speed and power in the open field for huge gains.
Tigard ripped off 10 plays of 20 yards or more in the first two quarters. Five different Tigers scored: Stockwell, Smith, Braden Lenzy on the ground and Carter Dennis and Noah Jackman twice through the air. Quintana tossed three touchdown passes, all off play-action roll outs that were set up by the Tiger ground game. At the half, Tigard led 42-6.
"All week we talked about finishing," Ryan said. "Even after we scored our first couple of touchdowns, we wanted to keep going and keep playing."
With Ryan, Isaia Tavita Porter, Laytan Tanuvasa, Jaran White and Lulius Costa clearing out paths up front along the offensive line, Tigard ran for 285 yards and heaped 450 yards of total offense on the Skyhawks. Not bad considering Tigard head coach Craig Ruecker sat out his starters in the second half. Smith scored his second touchdown of the game to start the third quarter and then sat the rest of the way. The senior running back led Tigard with a team-high 96 yards. Braden Lenzy bagged 87 yards on just four carries. In the first quarter, Lenzy took a shotgun snap out of the Wildcat formation, sprinted through a hole on the left side of the offensive line, followed a great clear out block downfield by his younger brother, Max, and sprinted 58 yards to the house to go up 14-6 with 5:14 left.
"We just ran it down their throats," Smith said. "Our offensive line just never stops. They're always going hard and working together. The whole summer they worked their butts off and they're doing great. I think they can be the best line in the state."
Southridge senior quarterback Bradley Bickler and junior wide receiver Keyvaun Eady carried the Skyhawk offense with a number of striking aerial connections that kept it close early. On the Skyhawks' opening drive, Bickler hit Eady for a 50-yard bomb that set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bickler to Michael Pluck that brought Southridge within 7-6 with 8:46 to go in the first quarter.
The Bickler-to-Eady coupling was a constant source of big plays and highlight reel-worthy link ups throughout the evening. Eady, a junior with immense upside is possibly the best deep ball threat in Metro.
"We have great chemistry," Eady said. "We practice like we play and we both like to compete. We had great momentum, if we can just keep that going, we'll be set through the whole game and come out with the win."
"He's probably one of the fastest kids in the state and he has hops, so he can go up and get the ball when he needs to," Bickler said of Eady.
And Bicker's accuracy from the pocket has improved exponentially to coincide with his dangerous rushing ability as a dual-threat quarterback. A three-year starter who's the most seasoned signal caller in Metro, Bickler said the game's slowing down for him and he's seeing the field with extra clarity. He's spinning the ball better than ever with touch and zip.
"Being on varsity and getting that experience, I'm just more confident with my throws and my reads," Bickler said.
Yet, Tigard's team-wide ruling was too much for the young Metro upstart. Down 21-6 near the end of the first quarter, Bickler threw up two jump balls that the acrobatic Eady came down with to situate Southridge inside the red zone at the Tiger six.
However on 3 and goal, Bickler looked right toward Pluck, but Max Lenzy sagely read the Skyhawk signal caller's eyes, came off his assigned receiver, stepped in front of Bickler's pass and picked it over his right shoulder to prevent Southridge from scoring its second touchdown of the game. On the subsequent drive, Tigard turned the takeaway into a Dennis 20-yard catch-and-rumble touchdown pass from Quintana.
For all the hub and spotlight on Tigard's offensive system, the Tiger defense held Southridge to just 272 yards of total offense and forced three fumbles. Both Dennis and Tanuvasa notched a sack.
On the heels of a competitive loss to perennial power Sheldon, Southridge couldn't withstand Tigard's initial surge of gashes and chunk plays that snowballed into the first half rout. With the poor air quality in the state due to the smoke billowing out from forest fires across the Columbia Gorge, Bickler said the Skyhawks were forced to practice inside the Southridge gymnasium for three days, rather than out on the field. The focus, as a result, wasn't fully there during the week leading up to the game and cost Southridge when Friday rolled around against a fuming Tigard team.
"We battled from the start, we just got our heads down when they scored and could never recover from that," Bickler said. "It happens, we just have to bounce back. We have the habit of getting our heads down when things go bad. We have to grow up and fix those mistakes and look to each other when things go bad. We can't get mad at each other but we have to come together when things go wrong. We have to clear this game out of our heads and focus on Beaverton next week."
Through two weeks, you'd be hard-pressed to find a team on the 6A level that's impressed as much as Tigard. From its rising stars in Max Lenzy, Stockdale, Tavita Porter, Quintana and Jackman to the incumbent standouts Braden Lenzy and Tanuvasa, Tigard is again in the state championship conversation. With so many new pieces and moving parts shifting after reaching the state title game a year ago, the young Tigers were up to the task in the non-league slate. Tigard gets prohibitive league favorite Lake Oswego next week at home at 7 p.m. to open Three Rivers League action.
"I think we can be league champs," Smith said. "We're growing together and getting better every single week. We have unlimited potential, we just have to keep making leaps and keep going hard at every single team that we play."