Mountainside football beats Cavs, wins first ever playoff game
Mountainside's playoff moment isn't next year or the year after that.
The Mavericks are ahead of schedule and quickly on the fast track to long-term Class 6A postseason longevity. Disciplined, detail-oriented, well-coached, and physical with playmakers sprouting up everywhere, Mountainside is made for the second season.
Just ask Clackamas.
The Mavericks not only hosted their first home playoff game in school history, they won it, beating a prominent Cavalier program 17-7 in the first round of the 6A playoffs on Friday at Mountainside High School.
This wasn't some mismatch that was commonplace across the state's first round. This was the 16th seed against the 17th, two evenly stacked foes, the up-and-comer and the proud old guard. Clackamas is one of the more revered programs in 6A with talent across the board. Beating a team of the Cavs' caliber, with their tradition and history of excellence, is invaluable for a Maverick program skyrocketing with confidence.
"I'm kind of in awe of how far we've come," Mountainside junior running back EJ Broussard said. "We won three games last year, now we're onto the second round. It just feels so good."
Mountainside junior Andrew Simpson was the game's unofficial most valuable player, catching two touchdowns, picking off a Clackamas pass in the end zone in the first half and knocking down another Cavalier chuck into the end zone just before halftime. Sophomore quarterback Brian Mannion, in just his third career start, hit Simpson for both scores, dropping beautiful bucket throws in his wide receiver's breadbasket. On the first score, Clackamas defensive back JeanEllie Fleck stayed with Simpson step for step, but the Maverick wideout made a spectacular snag, leaping above the Cavalier corner, plucking the ball and pulling it away before the Cavalier could come up with the pigskin. Simpson secured possession of the rock and stuck the landing in the end zone, for the Moss-like highlight-reel score to go up 7-0.
"I practice high-pointing the ball a lot in practice, seven-on-seven, so it all came through," Simpson said. "Mannion threw a great ball. We've had a great connection since the summer."
Simpson's second score was the same shot play as the second quarter connection: on an island with Fleck, solid coverage from the Cav on the outside, but just an even greater throw and catch by Mannion and Simpson that extended Mountainside's lead to 14-0.
"I knew I had to catch it over the shoulder, but that's another catch I practice a lot," Simpson said. "It's all following through. It's a game I'll always remember."
Clackamas played with championship pride through the final whistle too. Trailing 17-0 late in the fourth quarter after a Mountainside field from Tyler Dahlback, Cavalier senior quarterback Andy Atkeson fired a deep pass down the left sideline that sailed over Simpson's outstretched hands into the waiting mitts of Nick Kennewell, who ran with a cavalcade of Cavs to the house for six. Nick Kennewell even had enough time to turn and high-five a teammate in mid-stride to the end zone. The ensuing PAT made it 17-7 with 5:42 to go in the fourth.
"When I saw that touchdown, I was like 'Alright, let's get it going, let's come back right now," Clackamas senior Richard Kennewell said. "I'm pretty sure that's how our whole team felt."
And, after the Cavaliers forced a punt on the ensuing drive, Atkeson connected on another deep shot, this time to Richard Kennewell, that placed the Cavs inside the Maverick 10. A proud group that helped win a state title as sophomores and reached the semis as juniors, Clackamas' senior class wouldn't give up the fight.
But, as was the case one too many times against the Mavs, the Cavs were their own worst enemy. And on first and goal from the Maverick 9, Atkeson's pass was tipped by Maverick lineman and picked by Mountainside cornerback Carson Willner with 90 seconds to go, sealing the Mavs' first playoff win in school history. Clackamas committed three turnovers, two in the red zone, and turned the ball over on downs on fourth and goal from the Maverick 4 in the third quarter. Four more drives crossed over into Mountainside territory only to stall out. Kennewell got two feet in a fade route in the back of the end zone for a supposed touchdown on the first drive of the game, only to have the back judge rule the Cavalier was out of bounds. On the next play, Simpson picked off Atkeson for a touchback. Simpson's second touchdown likely would've never occurred, except on 4 and 8, Clackamas committed a roughing the punter penalty that gave Mountainside a fresh set of downs. Immediately, Mannion lobbed his second score to a racing Simpson down the right rail.
"We played with good effort, we just didn't execute as well as expected," Richard Kennewell said. "There are a lot of things that go into getting a touchdown: play calls and execution and we just couldn't get it done tonight. Mountainside played hard, played smart. They didn't give up any dumb penalties like us. Overall, they're a good team."
And still, somehow, be it the remains of championship moxie or pure guile, Clackamas hung around to make it a game. Clackamas junior running back Jake Spitulski ran tough between the tackles. Nick Kennewell had a 45-yard kickoff return. Atkeson was accurate, Richard Kennewell and Dan Mahler were surehanded. Fleck and Nick Kennewell laid a couple of dome-rattling hits. Josiah Manning was solid pass coverage. The Cavs handily won the field possession battle in the first half, but couldn't cash in.
"A lot of things that could've gone either way, went (Mountainside's) way," Fleck said.
Mountainside's Jontae Allen, Will Verdine, Anthony Yatskov and Manny Ruiz made Atkinson uncomfortable, flushing him left and right from the pocket, making him throw on the run. Mountainside's bend-but-don't break defense bowed its neck when needed most with the timely takeaways. Marlon Sawhill-Barrios came up with a fourth-quarter strip-sack on top of the secondary's crucial interceptions.
When scouring film of Clackamas' offense, Maverick defensive back Justin Hughes said Mountainside noticed the Cavaliers preferred out routes and flag pass patterns, particularly in the red zone. Those clues were crucial in helping the Mavericks' defense sniff out the Cavs' tendencies around the goaline. But while the scout was on point, Hughes said it was more about the players rising to the challenge.
"We weren't trying to scheme (Clackamas), we were just trying to play our own game," Hughes said. "When we stick to our game, we can beat anybody."
To outsiders, this result might be startling. But to the Mountainside players who come in every Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. to lift weights, who sacrificed their summers, who poured into the process of quickly constructing a competitive contender, this was the expectation. Three years ago, the current Mavericks migrated in from all over: Aloha, Southridge and Westview, amongst other places. Head coach John Mannion took the gig three years ago after state championship success in Silverton. With so many different backgrounds melding together, much can go wrong. But from day one, back when Mountainside played only junior varsity football, Hughes could just feel a positive vibe amongst the players.
"The way we came together with our chemistry was different," Hughes said. "I call these guys my brothers. I love these boys. They're family to me. It's been a blessing. It's that unselfishness that brought the team together."
Mountainside faces top-ranked Tigard in the 6A second round at Tigard High next Friday. The Tigers are as good as advertised and they've been through the playoff wars before. But the Mavericks won't be outcoached or out-toughed, surely. They don't mind mucking games up with old school methods. And they have the explosive playmakers like Hughes and Simpson to put Tigard on alert.
"We're expecting a lot of physicality," Hughes said. "(Tigard) plays great all-around football in all three phases of the game. It's just another team, so we're going to play our game."
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