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Senior leadership, long-time friendship played a big part in Tigard's memorable campaign

DAN BROOD - The Tigard High School football team takes the field prior to Friday's Class 6A state semifinal game.For the Tigard High School football team, the season ended a week too soon.

And, of course, it certainly wasn't the way the Tigers wanted to finish their season.

But, wow, what it season it was.

Tigard came up just one game short of reaching this Saturday's Class 6A state title tilt, as it fell 52-7 to unbeaten Clackamas in a state playoff semifinal contest played Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.

And, it certainly was a season of achievement for the Tigers.

First of all, they put together a final overall record of 10-3. They went 6-1 in play in the powerful Three Rivers League, sharing the league title with Lake Oswego — which Tigard beat 31-28, in thrilling, come-from-behind fashion back on Sept. 15.

Tigard had to play four games down the stretch without standout, do-everything receiver/defensive back Braden Lenzy, after the University of Oregon commit suffered a knee injury in a league loss to Sherwood.

But, showing their depth and determination, the Tigers went 4-0 in the games they had to play without Lenzy, including state playoff victories over Barlow and rival Tualatin.

And, with the semifinal berth, which Tigard earned with a thrilling 24-21 state playoff quarterfinal win at TRL foe West Linn, the Tigers reached the semifinal round of the state playoffs for the fifth time in the past six season.

Achievements — many.

But, for this year's Tigers, it was about more than just the achievements on the field.

"It was a real fun season," Tigard senior lineman Burke Albaugh said as he stood on the Hillsboro Stadium turf following Friday's semifinal contest. "We were proud to get this far, especially with all the injuries we had."

"We were such a family," Tigard senior linebacker Jacob Beck said. "I don't think I've had a connection like this with any of my other teams."

"It was all super special," said Tigard freshman Drew Carter, who excelled after being thrown into the fire at quarterback after a slew of injuries to other quarterbacks in the Tiger program. Everyone, the team, the coaches, the town were all so supportive. I'm so happy. They took me in."

"We had good relationships," Tigard senior receiver/defensive back/punter Nick Heinke said. "All of the classes got along. It was all good."

"We shined as a team," Tigard junior tight end/defensive end Noah Jackman said. "We played hard for each other, and for Tigard. We're a team. It's not about a single person with us."

"Our players are fully aware of the tradition we have here at Tigard, and they are proud to be Tigard football players," Tiger coach Craig Ruecker said prior to the team's quarterfinal game at West Linn. "They play with pride and great desire."

DAN BROOD - Tigard coach Craig Ruecker talks to the Tigers after the first half ended in Friday's Class 6A state playoff semifinal game.

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The state semifinal loss marked the final high school game for the 21 seniors on the Tigard High School football roster.

And most of those seniors had quite a football journey — going back a bunch of years.

"Most of us have played together since third grade," Beck said. "It's an end of an era. To be able to play together all these years has been so special."

"We've been together since third grade. We've known each other forever, and we all trust each other," Albaugh said. "We always did whatever we could to get better."

The seniors' leadership also was invaluable, especially to a freshman like Carter.

"They were great people," Carter said of the Tigard seniors. "They were our leaders. They all worked hard, and I know they'll do good things in whatever they do in the future."

"They were great," Jackman said of the seniors. "They were good leaders. They were really good with the younger guys. They kept us motivated."

The seniors reveled in their leadership role.

"We had trust and respect for one another," Albaugh said. "We wanted to do whatever we could for the team. Like, with Drew, we took him in and we wanted to make sure he was comfortable."

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While the graduating seniors on the Tigard team will definitely be missed, don't expect the Tigers to go through a drop off in the 2018 season.

After all, they've got that tradition going for them — as well as a potential strong group of returnees, including Jackman, Carter, sophomore receiver/defensive back Max Lenzy, sophomore defensive back Tyler Penn, junior running back Malcolm Stockdale, junior receiver Jazz Ross, junior linebacker/tight end Mitchell Cross, junior fullback/linebacker Carter Dennis, sophomore kicker Jackson Cleaver, junior lineman Iulius Costa, sophomore lineman Bryce Goetz, junior lineman Isaia Tavita Porter and sophomore defensive back/kick returner Hunter Gilbert, among others — set to go next year.

"We're really looking forward to it," Carter said with a smile.

*****

While the Tigard High School football team played in many memorable games during the 2017 season, there may have been none more memorable than the Tigers' regular-season contest against rival Tualatin.

For me, it might have been the craziest game I've ever covered.

The game started normal enough. It was a defensive battle in the opening minutes. Tigard hit the first big play of the game, when Carter connected with senior receiver Jakob Harrold on a 45-yard pass-and-run play, putting the ball inside the Tualatin 1-yard line.

But then, as the ball was being spotted for play, it happened.

The lights went out at Tigard High School.

And they stayed out.

Time started ticking away.

I talked with players on the Tigard team, who who were standing on the field in the dark.

They heard some rumors, and so did I.

One rumor was that the game was going to be moved to Tualatin High School. I laughed at that one. I remember telling Tigard athletic trainer Travis Johannes that there was no way that was going to happen. It wasn't feasible.

But, for certainly not the first time, I was wrong.

Every one, and everything, packed up and headed south to Tualatin High School.

It was crazy, but it happened.

The game resumed at Tualatin after a one-hour and 55-minute delay.

The Tigers, who handled the unheard of situation with poise, came away with an impressive 28-6 win. And, in a season of memories, that was a game not to be forgotten.

Dan Brood, who never got the opportunity to play in a high school football playoff game, is the sports editor of the Times.

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