After besting Forest Grove 31-21 Friday, the Tigers are eyeing the playoffs with two games to play

by: SETH GORDON - Pep talk - Newberg head coach T.J. Tomlin instructs his players during a break in the action Friday night. After falling behind 14-0, the Tigers stormed to a 31-21 victory.

Growing in confidence with every win, Newberg faced down another challenge, proving something to itself by coming back from an early 14-0 deficit to beat visiting Forest Grove 31-21 Friday night.

The Tigers have now won three consecutive Pacific Conference games after two tough-to-swallow losses to McMinnville and Glencoe to open league play, but have been in so many tightly contested games already this season that pressure situations no longer seem to affect them as much.

“Like the last couple of games, we’ve always responded,” head coach T.J. Tomlin said.

“Once we had the lead, the kids just kept control. It was close at times, but I felt like we had control for most of the game.”

Facing a Vikings offense that throws 80 percent of the time was a first for Newberg, which has faired well against run-heavy attacks so far, but Forest Grove marched down the field on it’s opening possession to take a 7-0 lead.

The Tigers promptly turned the ball over three plays later on a botched handoff and the visitors needed just three plays — the final one a nine-yard pass — to move 43 yards and go up 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game.

The Newberg offense was confident, not nervous, in response, covering 62 yards in six plays, capped by a 24-yard play-action touchdown pass from junior quarterback Grayson Oviatt to wide receiver and classmate Tyler DeLashmutt to cut the lead in half.

The Tigers then got the break they were looking for, as the Vikings fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with Marcus Dufour recovering for the home side.

Facing third down and 12, Tomlin called a counter, which has been one of Newberg’s most effective plays all season. Senior Andy Tautfest scooted 23 yards for the tying scoring just seven seconds into the second quarter.

The wave of momentum didn’t stop there, as Nabil Ames picked off sophomore quarterback Taylor Jensen and rumbled 38 yards on Forest Grove’s next offensive play to set the Tigers up at the Vikings 15-yard line.

Matthew McCarthy scored from four yards out with 10:31 to play in the second, capping a binge that saw the hosts score 21 points in just 2:49.

Newberg missed a few opportunities to pull away in the second quarter, but after settling for the seven-point lead at the break, was ruthless in setting up a potential knockout on its second possession of the third quarter.

On first and 10 from the 20, Tomlin called another play-action pass and Oviatt found Tyler DeLashmutt again streaking behind the defense and hit him in stride for an 80-yard score to make it 28-14.

“Their safeties were sitting at seven and eight yards and DeLashmutt was better than their corner and both times he just burned him and the ball was perfect,” Tomlin said. “Oviatt’s getting better each week throwing the ball and we need to do that.”

Forest Grove responded with a 74-yard scoring drive on its next possession to get right back into the game, but the Newberg defense was dominant in the fourth quarter, picking off Jensen again to set up a 23-yard Oviatt Field goal with 7:15 left to play.

It was the second time in the fourth quarter Newberg failed to punch in a touchdown to ice the game, but the defense held, forcing the Vikings into a 30-yard field goal attempt that missed.

DeLashmutt helped seal the win by pinning Forest Grove at its own 9-yard line with a 57-yard punt with just over two minutes to play and the Vikings could only advance the ball to midfield before time expired.

Oviatt finished with his best passing performance, going 4-for-6 for 121 yards and two scores, but was also part of a balanced rushing attack after picking up 41 yards. Tautfest led with 76 yards, McCarthy added 68 and Garrison Hardin came through for 53, as the offense averaged just under eight yards per play.

The Tigers (4-3 overall, 3-2 Pacific Conference) now find themselves in a three-way tie for second place with Glencoe and Tualatin ahead of Friday’s trip to unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Tigard.

Regardless of what it does Friday, Newberg can likely wrap up a top-four finish and an automatic playoff berth with a win in the season finale at seventh-place Hillsboro, but are pumped up to take on a team of Tigard’s quality.

“We’re going to tell our kids this is what playoff football is like,” Tomlin said. “Tigard is going to the playoffs and they’re going to go deep. We’ve had a couple of those games, Clackamas was one, and in the playoffs, that’s what it’s like.”

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