The Tigers' super season comes to an end in the semifinals

by: JAIME VALDEZ - MAKING THE PLAY -- Tigard High School senior tight end Nick Duron (right) looks to get past Central Catholic junior linebacker Matt Vanoudenhaegen and head up field after making a catch in Saturday's Class 6A state playoff semifinal game.PORTLAND — Their effort never wavered, nor did the fight.

Even when the Tigard football team’s 6A state semifinal game with Central Catholic went sideways, and the Rams’ ruthless running back duo of Cameron Scarlett and Ryan Nall turned Jeld-Wen Field into their own personal playground, the Tigers refused to pack it in.

The Tiger defense hammered away at Scarlett and Nall and did everything within their power and respective abilities to trudge up the state’s best backfield. Senior quarterback Jett Even guided an detonative offense that threw up 668 total yards, scored 49 points and put constant pressure on the Rams’ heralded defense.

In Tigard’s case, it simply was a matter of too much Scarlett, too much Nall and an outrageous amount of Central Catholic who took out the Tigers, 83-49, in a record-breaking shootout on Saturday.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - PASSING FANCY -- Tigard senior quarterback Jett Even (left) looks to throw a pass over Central Catholic senior Donovan Manning. Even passed for 306 yards in Saturday's state playoff semifinal contest. “There’s no give up in our kids,” said Tigard head coach Craig Ruecker. “You wouldn’t expect a team that went 12-1 to give up on anything. Our guys played their hearts out, but Central Catholic was a better football team than we were. We’re proud of our guys. To be in the semifinals two years in a row, and get to practice on Thanksgiving three years in a row is a very nice accomplishment for our kids and our program.”

With the win, Central Catholic improved to 13-0 on the season. The Rams also advance to play Jesuit in this Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game, which is slated to start at 1 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field.

In the semifinal contest, Scarlett, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior and Nall, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior rumbled and raced for a combined 676 yards and nine touchdowns against a Tiger defense that only allowed 11.5 points a game all season. Rarely tested during a dominant regular season in which Tigard beat their first 12 opponents by a whopping 46 points a game, the Tigers finally met their match in Central Catholic.

“I feel like we had a great season,” Tigard senior fullback/linebacker A.J. Hotchkins said. “We played hard every game, and gave it everything we had tonight, so I feel good about this game. We gave it all we had. We fought. I feel like we played really hard, but (Central Catholic) is a great team. They deserve it.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - TIGER TOUCHDOWN -- Tigard senior fullback A.J. Hotchkins (33) reaches the end zone for one of his two touchdowns in Saturday's state playoff semifinal game played at Jeld-Wen Field. One loss in no way takes away from what can be called an outstanding season for the Tigers. Tigard reached the state semifinals for the second time in two years, won back-to-back Pacific Conference championships, and went out with their guns blazing versus a Rams’ team that has six Division I commitments on its roster. The Tigers seemed to fight to the finish line and proved they had the chops to hang with one of the best squads in the state.

“I’ve been playing with most of these guys since I was in third grade, fifth grade,” Even said. “I’m just going to remember playing with my teammates and my coaches the past two years. This was the best time of my life. The community was behind us 100 percent. They were always supporting us. The season was awesome. It’s been a fun year.”

“We have a great bond at Tigard, we’re all brothers,” Tigard senior running back Manu Rasmussen said. “We all grew up playing with each other in youth football. We went out and played hard tonight like we always done since we were kids, and left it all out on the field. We’ll remember this forever.”

“I thought we had the best year we could possibly have,” said senior wide receiver Darren Rodrigues. “I wouldn’t want to finish it any other way. We went down fighting, and I wouldn’t have wanted to play with any other people than my guys. I love them all. They’re like my family.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - ON THE RUN -- Tigard senior Ryan Cleveland (right) looks to run down Central Catholic senior Ryan Nall in Saturday's state playoff semifinal game. Nall scored five touchdowns for the Rams. In Saturday’s semifinal tilt, Central Catholic came out of the gate on fire, turning a Tiger fumble on the first play of the game into a 16-yard touchdown pass to Nall from Aidan Wilder to go up 7-0 with 9 minutes and 38 seconds to go in the first quarter. Following a Tigard punt on the next drive, Scarlett took a handoff around the left side of the Ram offensive line and bolted 84 yards to the house to push Central’s advantage to 14-0 with 4:59 to go in the first.

“They’re a great team, you can’t make any mistakes against them or it’s going to kill you,” said Rasmussen.

Dazed, but not down for the count, Even and the Tiger offense engineered a five-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Hotchkins leaking out of the backfield from his fullback position and catching a 9-yard touchdown to pull Tigard within 14-7 with 3:03 remaining.

“We keep fighting, we don’t quit,” Tigard junior receiver Sam Inos said. “That’s the thing about us, we don’t back down to anything. If you hit us, we’ll hit you back. That’s how we play football, that’s the mentality we had all year.”

Yet, Nall came right back with a 67-yard jaunt of a touchdown run to extend Central’s lead to 21-7. Tigard responded with a great kickoff return by Inos that put the ball at the Ram 38 and Even hit Hotchkins for a 22-yard pass that put the Tigers inside the red zone.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - GOING FORWARD -- Tigard junior receiver Brady McGetrick battles for yardage in Saturday's state playoff semifinal game. McGetrick had five catches for 121 yards in the 83-49 loss to Central Catholic. Threatening to cut even deeper into the deficit, Hotchkins took a handoff on the first play of the second quarter through a gaping hole created by the Tiger offensive line and hightailed it toward paydirt. Two Ram linebackers met the fullback at the goaline just as Hotchkins tried to stretch the ball across the pylon, ripped the ball away from the all-league star, and recovered the loose ball in the end zone to give the ball back to Central Catholic.

“We were trying to swing the momentum, and just couldn’t do it,” Hotchkins said. “They’re a great team, and with a great team like that you can’t make silly mistakes. We had a lot of penalties and mistakes in the first half, and that’s what it came down to in the end.”

On the very next play, Nall shook off two tackles and took off for an 80-yard score down the left sideline to lengthen the Rams’ lead to 28-7 just 24 seconds into the second quarter. Nall tacked on another explosive touchdown run, after a Tigard three-and-out, this one from 79 yards out that pushed the lead to 35-7.

Rasmussen scored on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 35-14 that was set up by Even zipping a 63-yard dime in-between two Ram defensive backs to Rodrigues who weaved through the Central defense inside the 10-yard line.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - TD TYLER -- Tigard High School junior running back Tyler Walker scored three rushing touchdowns for the Tigers in Saturday's Class 6A state playoff semifinal contest. “We’re not weak-minded,” said Rodrigues. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

However, Central answered again with three-yard touchdown run by Walsh, and though Rasmussen scored another touchdown on the next drive, Scarlet scampered 67 yards for a score to with 1:51 to go in the first half to broaden the halftime advantage to 49-21.

In an old-fashioned shootout where Central Catholic notched touchdowns on their first seven possesions and Tigard could ill-afford to make any mistakes, the Tigers turned the ball over five times. Central scored on each of the takeaways, which Hotchkins said was backbreaking as the Tigers’ tried to mount a miraculous comeback.

“It was little mistakes like fumbling the ball that hurt us. At halftime I think the score should’ve been 49-35, if we had taken care of the ball,” said Hotchkins. “We needed to make big stops in the first half, and just limit our mistakes. But, in the second half we played better.”

Indeed, after Wilder scored on a one-yard quarterback plunge on the second half’s opening drive to go up 56-21, Tigard’s comeback attempt began to gain steam. Hotchkins lit up Ram wide receiver Zach Davis with a filling-rattling hit on a third-and-7 play at the Ram 10, and Rodrigues broke up a pass on fourth-and-7 to give Tigard the ball back with 5:11 remaining in the third.

Tigard responded with an eight-play, 87-yard march that only took 2:50 off the clock and finished with Tyler Walker running four yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 56-20 with 2:21 left in the third.

Better yet, Tigard’s defense forced their first three-and-out of the night on Central’s next possesion to present the rock back to Even and company. One 60-yard pass to junior wide receiver Brady McGetrick, and a Inos 12-yard wide receiver reverse touchdown run later, and the previously dead in the water Tigers only trailed 56-35 with 1:01 to go in the third.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - GREAT SEASON -- Tigard High School seniors Nathan Wick (52) and Jake Biglow embrace near the end of Saturday's Class 6A state playoff semifinal game. The Tigers fell 83-49 to Central Catholic. “To our kids’ credit, we came out in the second half and put a little scare into them,” said Ruecker. “We scored a few touchdowns and made some big plays happen.”

“We had to come out fired up in the second half and try to do what we do best,” added Rasmussen.

Tigard’s defense pressed on in their attempt to corral Nall and Scarlett and after a Jake Biglow tackle for a loss forced Central Catholic into the shadow of their own goaline, at the Ram 4-yard line. Despite pinning the Rams back deep inside their own territory Nall found a gap along the Tiger front line, made one cut and was gone, 96 yards to the end zone to squash Tigard’s flicker of hope with 38 seconds remaining in the third.

“We wanted to do what we do, play fast and physical,” said Duron. “They came out stronger, but we were a great team all year. Both teams were physical and talented. They just came out with the ‘W’ that time.”

Ruecker said all year Tigard relied on speed on the defensive side of the ball, and while the Tigers’ athletes were fast, Central Catholic countered with both speed and size not just at the skill positions but upfront as well. That lethal combination, despite Tigard fighting tooth-and-nail to do anything to trip up Scarlett and Nall was the Tigers’ ultimate undoing.

“We tried numerous things on defense and couldn’t find an answer,” said Ruecker.

Tigard’s offense moved the ball with ease, piling up 306 passing yards from Even, 132 rushing yards from Hotchkins, and 89 more rushing yards Rasmussen. McGetrick caught five passes for 121 yards. Duron had four catches for 76 yards. The Tigers tallied 30 first downs and received great field positions on multiple occasions thanks to great kickoff returns by Inos and Rodrigues.

Central Catholic’s 83 points and the 132 combined points between both teams set state records for the big-school semifinals.

“When you score 49 points, usually you take that nine times out of 10,” said Even. “We were moving the ball pretty well on offense. We established the run, and that opened up the pass. We just couldn’t get stops, but that’s football. On any given day, a team can go off like that. They came to play and they played well.”

Walker and Hotchkins tacked on touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the senior-stacked Tigers who finished the season with a 12-1 record.

“We came out every day and just worked out butts off,” said Rodrigues. “Our coach always says that Friday is our pay day. So we work really hard during the week, and get paid on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“We played lights out every game,” said Inos who had 184 kickoff return yards against the Rams. “We never backed down. Being one of the last four teams to be playing in the state is big for us. We’re going to be back next year, too.”

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