Tigers lead wire to wire to score its first-ever win against the Raiders and vault into third place in the league

Spearheaded by senior Jacob Hooker’s best Tasmanian Devil impersonation, the Newberg boys rugby team put together its best performance of the season, perhaps ever, to upset Reynolds 34-17 Saturday at Renne Field.

Hooker seemed to be everywhere on the field, marauding through the Raiders’ defense to the tune of four tries and continually disrupting their offense. His performance was amplified by the Tigers’ wide and flat formation and cohesive play on defense, which left nowhere for Reynolds to go for most of the SETH GORDON - Make way - Garrison Hardin fights his way past a Reynolds defender during Newberg's 34-17 upset of the defending state champion Raiders Saturday at Renne Field. Hardin score two of the Tigers six tries in the match.

Similarly harmonious was the fact that the magnitude of the occasion matched Newberg’s level of play, as the Tigers dominated the defending state champion and then-No. 1 team to score perhaps the biggest victory in the seven-year history of the program.

The win not only knocked the Raiders off the top ring of the standings, which they previously shared with Union, a team they had already beaten, but also catapulted Newberg into third place of Rugby Oregon’s top division — the varsity “Premiership” — with just one game remaining in the season.

It was also the first time in seven meetings that Newberg had beaten Reynolds.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and a long day, so we just came to work,” Hooker said.

The Tigers absolutely stifled the Raiders en route to a 24-0 halftime lead, spreading its forward line wide across the field while also staying so flat that it often flirted with going (and sometimes went) offside.

Add in an afternoon of “spot-on” tackling and tactical recognition, per head coach Rick Rogers, and it proved extremely difficult for Reynolds, which has made much of its hay in recent years with excellent play from its backs, to swing the ball wide and break free for large gains.

Junior Garrison Hardin opened the scoring with a try on the far right side of the zone and Ian Halstead converted the extreme wide-angle kick to make it 7-0 just about five minutes in.

Halstead also converted following Hooker’s first score to double the lead shortly after, but likely earned man of the match honors from the Raiders for his deft kicking in open play, which both turned away a couple of deep Reynolds drives and flipped field position.

That was the case following Hooker’s second try of the contest that put the hosts up 19-0, as Reynolds came within a few yards of the try line before a turnover and a running Halstead kick defused the threat.

“It’s real weapon if you can kick that way and he really was,” Rogers said. “With the wind behind him we could really take advantage of that. He’s really come on this year.”

It wasn’t too much later that Hardin burst free for a 30-yard try to put the Tigers up by two dozen at the break.

To their credit, Reynolds played with renewed purpose in the second half, finally breaking through for a 40-yard try to get on the board at 24-7.

Newberg’s first attempt at an answer was thwarted when the Raiders forced play out of bounds, but the Tigers won the ensuing line in and Hooker quickly converted to make it 29-7.

With Halstead’s kicking, both on conversions and during free play, practically neutralized by a stiff wind in the second half, Reynolds took advantage of better field position to put together a scoring drive to make it 29-12.

About 30 seconds after the ensuing kickoff, the Raiders struck again, this time on a nifty 30-yard try from out of the backfield, to make it 29-17.

Hooker had the final say a few minutes later, however, intercepting a late and ill-fated pass and dashing about 40 yards to the try zone to emphatically put a stamp on the result.

“I saw them drop the ball and one of my guys was already going to him, so I just covered the next guy,” Hooker said. “It was just good timing, I guess.”

The exact format of the playoffs — the number of teams that will qualify or if the 10-team division will split into separate upper and lower competitions — is unknown, but a win in the season finale Saturday at fifth-place Lakeridge would all but assure Newberg a spot.

The top end of the standings seem to be unusually tight, with Newberg (20) just two points behind now-second-place Reynolds, but just one clear of Prairie, two ahead of Lakeridge and three up on Battle Ground.

If the playoff field is limited to four, a loss could eliminate the Tigers, who would be virtually assured of qualifying for a field of six or more, a set up that would be highly entertaining considering the parity this year.

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