Tigard holds off West Linn in playoff thriller
It was a battle from the start.
Two powerhouses throwing blow after blow.
Back and forth it went.
And it wasn't decided until Skylar Holloway said so.
Holloway, a senior defensive back on the Tigard High School football team, ended all the tension and drama by coming up with a game-clinching interception with just 43 seconds left to play in the contest, putting the exclamation point on the Tigers' 24-21 win over West Linn in a thrilling, nail-biting Class 6A state playoff quarterfinal game played Friday at West Linn High School.
"I can't put this into words," said Holloway, who had a pair of interceptions in the victory. "This is just amazing. We prepared the whole week and played so hard. It's just unbelievable."
"This means a lot to us," said Tigard junior running back Malcolm Stockdale, who rushed for a game-high 141 yards in the victory. "We get to put in a lot more hard work now. This shows we can play with anybody. No one can stop us when we're playing well."
"This is a big step and a huge win," said Tigard freshman quarterback Drew Carter, who ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the victory. "Hats off to West Linn. They played well and so did we, and we came out on top."
"This means a lot," said Tigard senior running back Jake Leavitt, who ran for 81 yards in the win. "We knew that they'd be fired up. And we brought it, too."
With the victory, Tigard, the Three Rivers League co-champion, and the No. 6 team in the final OSAA power rankings, improved to 10-2 on the season with the victory. The Tigers advance to the semifinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs for the second straight year. They'll face unbeaten Clackamas in a semifinal contest starting at noon Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.
"All year, we wanted to get back (to the semifinals)," Leavitt said. "We get another chance."
"I'm super excited for that," Carter said.
Defending Class 6A state champion West Linn, the No. 3 team out of the Three Rivers League and the No. 3 team in the power rankings, finished its season with a final record of 9-3.
"This season was good," West Linn senior linebacker Luke Hamper said. "We fought hard, overcame some adversity, especially for us transfers, coming over here and bonding with the guys, making the most out of it and just grinding in the summer to try and have a state title chase."
"I'm just going to remember all the fun I had with this team," West Linn senior linebacker Taran Floyd said. "This was my first time playing football for West Linn and it's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I loved the team, loved the coaches, loved the program. It was amazing."
Holloway may have had the last big play in Friday's quarterfinal showdown, but he also had the initial big play of the contest. On the opening play from scrimmage, Holloway intercepted a pass by West Linn junior quarterback Ethan Long, giving Tigard the ball at the Lion 44-yard line.
"I knew that they would target me," Holloway said of his first interception. "I saw the man come across, then I saw the ball and got it."
It didn't take Tigard long to capitalize on the turnover. Turning to the running game, the Tigers moved 56 yards in 12 plays, capping the drive with a four-yard touchdown run by Stockdale, giving Tigard a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes and 32 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
The next time Tigard got the ball, the Tigers struck through the air. Carter, on a play action pass, found junior tight end Noah Jackman open on the left side of the field for a 46-yard touchdown pass play, upping the Tigard lead to 14-0 with 17.4 seconds left to play in the opening period.
"That was big," Carter said with a smile. "I owe that to my line. They gave me a lot of time to pass. I saw Noah open and he made a great play. That felt great."
The Lions came battling back in the second quarter. Long completed passes of 30 yards to senior Qawi Ntsasa and 23 yards to senior Cody Fretwell to set up his own 14-yard scoring run, coming on a quarterback draw and cutting the Tigard lead to 14-7 with 5:23 left in the period.
The Lions had a chance to get even closer before the half ended, as an interception by Fretwell gave them the ball at their own 47-yard line with 2:14 remaining in the quarter. West Linn moved the ball all the way to the Tigard six-yard line, where they had a first down with 14 seconds to play before halftime. But two passes went incomplete, and then, Long threw a short pass to senior James Marshall, but he was tackled at the two-yard line and, with the Lions out of timeouts, time expired in the half, leaving the Tigers with a 14-7 lead at the break.
But Long and the Lions wouldn't be denied in the third quarter. With West Linn facing a fourth-and-1 situation at its own 45-yard line, Long broke through the line, and sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 7:07 left in the period.
The teams remaining tied going into the fourth quarter, but that's where the Tigers put together another long scoring drive. Behind the running of Leavitt and Stockdale, with a 31-yard pass from Carter to junior receiver Jazz Ross mixed in, Tigard moved the ball to the West Linn 14-yard line.
There, facing a fourth-and-two,
Carter ran around right end on a bootleg play and sprinted just inside the right pylon for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a 21-14 advantage with 6:32 left in the contest.
"I almost tripped," Carter said. "I got a great block from (Tigard senior receiver) Jakob (Harrold) and I was able to get to the end zone. That felt great. I was so excited."
It was then time for the Tigard defense to come up with another big play. And junior linebacker Carter Dennis came up with that play, as he intercepted a Long pass on the Lions' next possession and returned the ball 31 yards to the West Linn 19-yard line.
"I just read the route and jumped it," Dennis said. "That was my first interception and it felt really good. I just ran down the sideline. I didn't know what to do."
The turnover helped set up a 29-yard field goal by Tigard sophomore Jackson Cleaver that extended the Tiger lead to 24-14 with just 3:33 left to play in the game.
But that lead wasn't safe.
The Lions, behind Long, weren't about to give up. A 22-yard pass from Long to sophomore Casey Tawa helped set up an 11-yard scoring strike from Long to senior Hayden Bromley that trimmed the Tigard lead to 24-21 with 54.4 seconds left to play in the game.
Things then got really interesting after that, as Fretwell recovered the ensuing West Linn onside kick, giving the Lions the ball at the Tigard 43-yard line, with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead, in the final minute.
"That was nerve-wracking," Leavitt said.
"I knew we had an outstanding defense," Stockdale said. "I knew we still had it."
A six-yard pass from Long to Bromley moved the ball to the Tigard 37-yard line with 47 seconds remaining. But on the next play, Holloway came up with his game-clinching interception, on a pass to the left side.
"I saw the ball, and I said 'It's mine,'" Holloway said. "I went and got it. It felt unbelievable. It was amazing."
"Thank the Lord for Skylar Holloway," Leavitt said with a smile.
"I almost threw my shoulder out, cheering on that play," Stockdale said.
Two plays later, the Tigers got to celebrate the win, and a trip to the semifinals.
"It came down to heart," Stockdale said. "It was all heart."
"They came back hard and we had to battle back," Dennis said. "We put the pedal to the metal."
"It was real physical," Leavitt said. "I'll be sore tomorrow."
Stockdale ran for his game-high 141 yards on 19 carries. Leavitt gained his 81 yards on 29 carries.
"Malcolm ran amazing," Leavitt said. "I'm really proud of him."
"We just eat," Stockdale said with a smile. "We've got speed and power. And our line (including senior Burke Albaugh, senior Laytan Tanuvasa, junior Isaia Tavita Porter, senior Jaran White and junior Iulius Costa) does a great job. They talk it out and get it done."
Carter completed four of six pass attempts for 125 yards. Tigard senior Braden Lenzy had one catch for 41 yards, in addition to playing strong defense in the secondary in his return to action after missing the previous four Tigard games due to injury.
For the Tiger defense, Jackman, senior Spencer Smith and junior Mitchell Cross each had a tackle for a loss.
For West Linn, Long completed 21 of 45 pass attempts for 252 yards in addition to rushing for 71 yards on eight carries.
Tawa had five receptions for 78 yards. Ntsasa had three catches for 50 yards, all coming in the first half before he sat out the second half due to an injury.
For the Lions' defense, senior Seth Bagley had a quarterback sack and seniors Tyler Good, Justin Babcock and Hamper each had a tackle for a loss.
"This week, we definitely put an emphasis on being physical," West Linn senior Zack Huffstutter said. "The first game (a 9-0 Tigard win on Oct. 6), our (defensive) line kind of got blown off the ball a little bit and that kind of created some gaps, but this week, we definitely had our line focus on staying a lower and that helped us. When we went out for the onside kick, I knew we were going to get it. We subbed in all the right kids, put in all our best guys — we knew we were going to get it. We knew what we were going to do on the onside, but we couldn't finish it on (offense). But we played to the last second. I'm proud of how our seniors battled."
"I made some mistakes at the start of the game, slipped up a little bit, but coach gave a good talk about doing our jobs and I think that in the second half, we really came out and we really did our jobs," Fretwell said. "That first game that we played them was a little rough. But this game, we had a good week of practice, and coach really told us that we had to man up inside and bring it to them instead of getting hit. These kids have amazing character. I love playing with them."
"The first time we played them, they kind of hit us in the mouth," Floyd said. "They came out they were aggressive and really gave it to us. We weren't as prepared. This time, we knew it was going to be a tough physical game and we just had to come out with everything we could. We started off a little slow on the defensive side, but we started noticing some stuff and picking it up as a defense and we just started going from there."
Friday's other Class 6A state semifinal game has Lake Oswego playing South Medford at 5 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
Miles Vance, of Pamplin Media Group, contributed to this story.