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Youthful Mavericks come up clutch in second half, overtime, take down number one Tigers

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside senior wide receiver Carlos Montero scored the game-winning touchdown against Tigard.

The pigskin spun perfectly from the outstretched right hand of Brian Mannion over the drawn-in Tigard defense toward a streaking Carlos Montero with a Mountainside community, a Maverick program and a rabid fan base all waiting on bated breath.

The football peaked, then descended with Montero racing underneath it, uncovered and somehow all alone in the end zone. For a moment, at least it seemed, everything but Montero stood still. The Tigard Army froze. Mountainside's sideline gasped in anticipation.

The Mavericks were playing with house money at this point. After taking top-ranked Tigard to overtime with a mix of swagger, cat burglar guts and full-fledged belief, Mountainside trailed 31-28 and faced a third and seven from the Tiger 25-yard line. Tigard got the ball first in overtime and made a field goal to reclaim the three-point lead. But the Mavericks didn't come all this way to tie or lose. They came to shock the world.

And so, Montero, who just two years ago was playing junior varsity ball, jumped, reached up with both hands to meet Mannion's teardrop, secured it at his face mask level in the back of the end zone and got his right foot down just inside the white line for the game-winning, upset-making, state-playoff-shaking 34-31 win over Tigard in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs on Friday at Tigard High School.

The play call was perfect. Every play design head coach John Mannion and his staff schemed up against this touted Tiger squad felt like it succeeded when it mattered most.

The throw, slung from Brian Mannion's right arm, was cash.

Montero's catch? It was one you'll be seeing on the highlight reels for decades to come.

Improbable. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Stunning.

Was this a miracle? No. Maverick Destiny? Yes. An all-time upset? Unequivocally. The game plan on both sides of the ball was superb. The execution in all three phases of the contest, supreme.

Mountainside, ranked 16th in the 6A bracket, will play at No.9 Barlow in the 6A quarterfinals next Friday at 7 p.m.

"Tigard is the best team in the state, no cap, but we played better, and we came out victorious because we wanted it more right from the jump," Mountainside two-way star Justin Hughes said. "We showed this brotherhood, this family, this connection can achieve any outcome against any team, anywhere. We came in as big-time underdogs. When's the last time you've seen a sixteen seed beat a one seed? We battled. We trusted each other, our coaching, trusted our defense."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside defensive back Landon Sherman celebrates a big interception against Tigard.

This is a Mountainside program that just started playing varsity football last season. Two years ago, this entire crop of Mavericks was playing on Thursdays, competing at the junior varsity level, seemingly years away from making an indelible impact on the 6A classification. There was promise of course, especially with John Mannion at the helm, and talent coming through the pipeline. And Mountainside made huge strides this year by hosting a home playoff game and beating Clackamas last week in the first round. But Tigard is part of the state's aristocracy. The Tigers are one of the top four programs in the state every season, period. They proved as such this year, smashing Lake Oswego and Lakeridge, crushing West Linn, toppling Tualatin en route to a Three Rivers League title and an undefeated record coming into the Mountainside game at 10-0. Four of the teams Tigard beat this fall will play in the 6A quarterfinals next week. Junior quarterback Drew Carter came in as the state's most accurate signal caller without an interception to his name. Tigard's two-headed monster of Hunter Gilbert and Josh Burns put dents in plenty of front sevens across the TRL. They were tough for Mountainside to handle as well. Tigard's defense was stingy and mean as ever with beasts such as Brayden Zolkoske, Johnny Nomani and Cole Scott roaming all over. New coach John Kemper hit the ground running, leaning on a senior class that helped Tigard win 30 games the past three years. One loss, as harsh as it was, doesn't define a season or a career.

"I'm just thinking about how blessed I was to play with these guys for four years," Tigard senior wide receiver Andrew Carter said. "This season was a dream season. It didn't end the way we wanted, but I'm just grateful I had the opportunity to play with these guys for this long. When we look back on this season, we won't look back on this. This was a hell of a team and hell of a season. As men, we're going to move on. A lot of us are done (playing football), but we'll bounce back."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside senior Justin Hughes scored two touchdowns, one on a scoop and score, the other a seven-yard catch.

This Tiger squad had one dream that many considered a reality: win a state title. They were the state championship favorites going into 6A playoffs amongst a crowded field of blue-blooded contenders. And Mountainside, motivated and fiery as a darkhorse can be, snatched it right out from underneath them.

"That was the most I've ever seen a team want to win a football game," Andrew Carter said of Mountainside. "We wanted to win. We played our normal game and they just were on another level. I have huge respect for that team. They were incredible. They capitalized on mistakes, we didn't. They jumped on us. We were both really good teams and they won the day."

Mountainside running back EJ Broussard, after helping beat Clackamas in the first round last week, claimed Tigard was "beatable". It was an eyebrow-raising sound bite, one that surely made the rounds in the Tiger locker room in the lead up to this game. Pundits picked the Mavericks to lose by 40. Fake spreads were bandied about and laughed at on social media. Nobody dared pick Mountainside to pull off anything monumental, not even the biggest Maverick homers. But in Mountainside's week of preparation, there was a sense of belief that permeated the program. "Why Not?" became Mountainside's unofficial mantra. Why not take the state by storm? Why not win the biggest game in school history? Why not now? Belief can ring hollow if everybody's not bought in. But Mountainside's mob mentality was unmistakable. The energy level, no matter the situation, no matter the adverse scenario, stayed sky-high thanks to the players who had confidence in each other and a coaching staff that helped bring out their best.

"We're smaller than most, we're new, but we like being the underdogs and causing big uproars," Broussard said. "And when it comes to our coaches, they're the best in the state. They put us in the position to win. Mannion, (assistant Grant) Piros, assistant (John) Gaffney all of them kept us in the game, kept us ready to go, kept our personnel right. It was all of them."

Mountainside made a statement early as Hughes picked up a Tiger fumble and took it back 38 yards to pay dirt on the first drive of the game to go up 7-0. On the next drive, Maverick linebacker Will Verdine ripped through the Tiger special teams' unit and blocked a 22-yard field goal attempt. Yet, Tigard got back on the track toward the tail end of the first half. Drew Carter hit Tyler Penn on an out route and Penn did the rest, shaking off Mountainside's initial tackle attempt and stiff-arming another Maverick into the turf en route to the end zone for six. Cleaver's PAT gave Tigard a 14-7 lead with 40 seconds left in the second quarter.

And on Tigard's first offensive play of the second half, Gilbert went full beast mode, shedding tacklers with forearm shivers, stoning Maverick defenders with stiff arms straight to the face mask, discarding defenders with a simple refusal to wilt all the way down the right sideline, the Tiger home crowd fueling his 92-yard touchdown down the home stretch to suddenly open up a 21-7 lead with 9:11 to play in the third quarter.

At that instance, Mountainside could've easily tucked tail, saluted the Tigers, headed into the offseason with a playoff win under its belt, ready to challenge for the Metro League title next fall. Nobody would've shamed the Mavericks for getting overrun by a Tigard team that trampled its opponents by 28.2 points per game. But Mountainside peeled itself off the mat, shook off the proverbial 10-count and found its bearings, against the odds. Still down two scores, the Maverick defense backed Tigard into its own territory and forced a punt that was bobbled and fallen on by Marlon Sawhill-Barrios at the Maverick 8-yard line. Mountainside wasted no time as Brian Mannion lobbed a beautiful ball to tight end Jonah Amaya for a touchdown in the right corner of the end zone to bring the Mavericks within 21-14.

"We never thought we were out of it," Hughes said. "We had the right mindset the whole way. Nobody thought we would be in this position. We prepared for this. We knew we could."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside senior defensive end Jontae Allen tries to break free from a Tigard lineman.

The Mavericks strung together a three-and-out on the next Tiger possession, finished by a Sawhill-Barrios sack, forced by Allen collapsing the left side of the Tiger line, to give the ball back to its offense.

As the fourth quarter began, Mannion lifted a screen pass to running back EJ Broussard along the left side of the field and the big bruiser bowled his way for a critical 29-yard catch-run on 3 and 7 all the way down to the Tiger 12. Again, there no was Maverick dawdling. Mannion went for the jugular, finding Andrew Simpson isolated on the right side of the field for a 12-yard back-shoulder throw to the right pylon that found the end zone and evened the game at 21-21 with 10:45 to go in the fourth.

"Our hopes were never down," Broussard said. "Scores fluctuate in games, so it was nothing big. We just had to stay on it, play our game."

Times were already tough for Tigard. The crowd moaned and groaned, both at the play and the officials as Mountainside made its momentum-shifting move. Then Drew Carter tried to float a screen pass to Burns from the Tigard 12-yard line that was intercepted by a lurking Mountainside defensive back in the flat. Tigard, inexplicably, fumbled the ball seven times and lost three of them. The ones that were retrieved lost huge, important yardage in critical junctures of the game. The interception went right into Mountainside's lap. Tigard didn't help itself with the giveaways. Turn the ball over four times against anybody and it's a recipe for heartbreak. And Mountainside's swarming defense was ready to pounce.

"We've been playing smart since day one," Mountainside junior linebacker Will Verdine said. "We've studied the playbook, studied film. We all play athletic and play together. We just wanted to ball our hearts out."

Three plays later Mannion hit Hughes for a seven-yard touchdown pass that reclaimed a 28-21 lead with 6:52 to play in the fourth. In just over 10 minutes of actual game time, or to be exact, less than a quarter, Mountainside reeled off 21 straight points. Gilbert's touchdown run belt like a death blow. Instead, it was Mountainside's steam.

"I don't think we let off the gas pedal in any way, but (Mountainside) responded so well, that there was nothing we could really do," Andrew Carter said. "That's more credit to them than it's anything about us. They played really well in the second half. They scored 21 in a row, but we never felt like we were going to lose. The only I felt that was when the game was over."

By all means, Tigard showed its tenacity and hardened backbone on the subsequent drive, when Drew Carter and company marched 87 yards in less than three minutes. Carter found Mathew Otness for a gigantic chunk gain that put Tigard in Mountainside territory, then Gilbert slashed into the end zone for a 13-yard score. Cleaver's game-tying PAT tied it 28-28 with four minutes to go.

Each team got the ball once more in regulation but couldn't mount the go-ahead drive, sending the instant classic to extra time.

When overtime came, Mountainside's hourglass could've run out. This group had yet to play an overtime contest in its relatively green tenure together. Tigard's been through postseason wars before. Seniors like Carter, Penn and Gilbert all remember taking Jesuit to the wire last year and probably have the scars to prove it. But the Maverick magic remained. A bad shotgun snap forced Drew Carter to scamper back and fall on the football on 2 and 7 from the Maverick 23 and Mountainside's defense stopped Tigard on third and long, forcing the Tigers to settle for a 44-yard field goal from Cleaver that regained a 31-28 advantage.

All night long Mountainside ran a wheel route for either Simpson or Hughes, a sort of out-and-up pass route designed to get a Maverick skill guy open down the sideline. As Hughes motioned behind Mannion, then made a break for the right rail, all of Tigard's secondary got caught looking toward the explosive slot receiver. As the Tiger safeties ran up and committed to Hughes, Montero motored through the open swath of turf on a deceivingly smooth post route. From there it was all Mannion and Montero who connected like a tandem that's' run that route thousands of times together. It was a play call Hughes told John Mannion would work in the timeout before the game-winning score. The head coach dialed it up, and Mountainside executed it to a tee.

"I was just saying prayers the whole time, asking God for help," Verdine said with a smile. "I'm in shock. We've worked our butts off over the last three years and just done things the right way. This puts us on the map."

The Maverick sophomore signal caller's star is on the meteoric rise. Young quarterbacks are often chewed up and spit out by Tigard defenses. Brian Mannion was calm and collected for four quarters, trusting his dad's play calls, delivering on the mark throws to his cache of sleek skill guys. The dime from Brian Mannion belied his age and relative lack of seasoning. In just his fifth varsity start, the sophomore had the wherewithal to evade an oncoming Tiger lineman, step up in the pocket with his eyes still downfield and delivered the ball on a platter.

"I had some rough throws where I messed up this game, but when that moment comes, that's the only one that matters in the end," Brian Mannion said. "As soon as it left my hand, I knew we won. It's the best feeling of my life. Great play by Montero, the offensive line protecting and everyone running the routes."

Tigard finished with 454 yards of total offense and limited Mountainside to 273 yards of combined offense. Drew Carter threw for 263 yards and the score. Gilbert ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Scott led Tigard with 12 total tackles. Otness caught four passes for 113 yards. But Mannion wasn't sacked once all night. Tigard had the aforementioned four untimely, uncharacteristic turnovers, three of which were flipped into Maverick touchdowns. Mannion threw for four touchdowns to four different receivers and 228 yards.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside sophomore quarterback Brian Mannion threw for four touchdowns to four different receivers against Tigard.


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