Mavericks take fourth quarter lead against Barlow, come up just shy in semifinal hunt

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside linebacker Manny Ruiz sacks Barlow senior quarterback Jaren Hunter.

The jubilant bursts of yellow-and-blue cheers echoed from Barlow's triumphant side of its sparkling new football field toward Mountainside, where a sullen yet dignified band of brothers slowly hugged every single coach and player one by one, honoring its sacred postgame tradition one last time.

The Mavericks weren't interested in moral victories. Mountainside stunned the state over the first two weeks of the Class 6A playoffs, punching out Clackamas, then toppling top-ranked Tigard in an upset for the ages. They came into the 6A quarterfinals against Barlow expectant. Winning was their providence. Perhaps not to the general public who slapped them on the back after knocking out Tigard and essentially congratulated them on a season well done prematurely, but to the Mavericks, nothing could stop them from making the semifinals. You could miss Mountainside with the fairy tale upsets, the Cinderella stories, the feel-good fable.

Mountainside put Barlow on its back, marrying expedient takeaways with an exploiting, explosive offense that bruised the Bruins. For the first 41 minutes of play, one could argue the Mavericks were the better team as Mountainside built a 16-7 lead with 7:41 to go in the fourth quarter.

But in the end, maybe it was just wasn't meant to be. Barlow scored 13 points in three minutes including a two-play, 85-yard drive that finished with a go-ahead 26-yard touchdown run with 4:31 to go that reclaimed a 20-16 lead. Mountainside stayed alive. The Mavericks' competitive nature was possibly their best trait team-wide. It defined this wolfish young group, that will to never wilt.

Yet, Mountainside couldn't summon that last ounce of magic. And, on its last drive of the game, threw an interception in front of Barlow's sideline that ended the incredible run, 20-16, at Barlow High School on Friday night.

"It's been one hell of a ride," Mountainside two-way star Justin Hughes said. "We came out to practice every day, didn't complain, we laughed, we smiled, we hugged, we loved each other. This is a brotherhood, a unit. I feel like nobody has this. Props to Barlow. They figured out our defense. They figured out what to run. They earned it, but I'm so proud of these boys. I'm going to miss these seniors so much. I've made such a good, deep connection with them. It's been something else."

"Our group of guys is special," Mountainside two-way standout EJ Broussard said. "Coach Mannion got us in the right mindset. If you told me in the summer we'd be here, I wouldn't have been surprised. We were ready for it."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside stars Will Verdine and Parker Groth celebrate a big catch against Barlow.

In the postgame aftermath, there were far more tears and frowns than compliant smiles and "we'll see you next years". Mountainside is the state's team of the future. The Mavericks might very well be the team to beat in the Metro League next season with the legion of returnees coming back in 2020. The quarterfinals will be a starting goal, not an accepted destination. But this group wanted to stay together another week, another two weeks. Seniors such as Jonah Amaya, Carlos Montero, Jontae Allen, Shane Gerber, Nick Calhoun, Yule Schrock and Marlon Sawhill-Barrios who led, sacrificed and helped build this group from a junior varsity squad two years ago to a quarterfinal entry put their heart and soul into this program. The underclassmen grew by leaps and bounds and teamed with their senior class in perfect unison. Broussard, Hughes, sophomore quarterback Brian Mannion, junior two-way standout Andrew Simpson, special teams stud Tyler Dahlback, heat-seeking missile Will Verdine and others came into their own. Mountainside felt like it deserved to win, like there was still another week of practice to go, another game to prepare for. That's why the sting of such a tough defeat was front and center on the faces and expressions of each player. Next year will be great. But it could've waited.

"The fact we made it this far is crazy, but I feel like we could've made it a lot farther," Broussard said. "This wasn't where we wanted to end our season. We just fought. That's our slogan, 'Fight'. We battled all season, no matter who we went up against. We're coming back better next year."

Mountainside fumbled twice in the first half, one of which led to Barlow's first and only score of the first half, the other occurred at the Bruin 25, terminating a promising scoring drive. But staying true to form, the Mavericks didn't capsize. The defense, rather, circled the wagons. Barlow took the ball down to the Maverick 22, but Schrock stepped up huge with a pass breakup in the end zone on third and long. Then Hughes smothered Barlow's intended target on 4 and 21 and knocked down a deep pass to turn the ball over on downs. Bend, but don't break. The offense couldn't cash in the takeaway but Dahlback bombed his patented southpaw spinning punt that was muffed by the Bruin punt returner and recovered by the Mavs' punt coverage unit after a mad scramble and pile up with 3:31 left. Brian Mannion moved the chains with a 10-yard pass to Montero. And Dahlback came through again, crushing a 42-yard field goal to bring Mountainside within 7-6 with 1:46 to go in the half.

"This is our fight," Hughes said. "This is our passion. We're scrappy. We play with heart, we play with fire, we play with anger. We built this legacy up and hopefully, we'll leave it behind."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside sophomore Landon Sherman came up with his second big takeaway in as many weeks against Barlow.

The formula that took down Tigard still did the trick: compete, scrap, stay afloat, find a way to get the game to the second half with a chance to take it. Mountainside sophomore defensive back Landon Sherman, who had a critical second-half interception against Tigard, came up with a fumble recovery with 10:21 left in the third quarter. Two plays later Mannion hit Montero on a deep post pattern for a 23-yard score that gave Mountainside a 13-7 lead.

Barlow moved the ball down to the Maverick 4 on its next possession, but on fourth and goal, Broussard, Sawhill-Barrios and Manny Ruiz wrangled Barlow's bootlegging quarterback and buried him back at the 13-yard line. The goaline stand not only prevented points but gave the ball back to Mountainside near the end of the third. And in the fourth Mannion hit Simpson for 39 yards and Hughes found Parker Groth for 20 yards on a wide receiver reverse pass that set up Dahlback's third field goal of the game that gave Mountainside a 16-7 edge with just over 10 minutes to go in the game.

The same mojo that carried the Mavericks against Tigard was completely present in the early stages of the second half. Takeaways led to short fields and scores. Heady plays and hands-on coaching led to huge chunk gains and tide-stemming stops. The third quarter and first few minutes of the fourth felt eerily similar to Mountainside's immortal 21-point second-half spree against Tigard. This Maverick group was once again finding ways to win, to compete even if they weren't playing at optimal efficiency. That's what great teams do.

"Anything is possible," Broussard said. "After beating Tigard…there shouldn't have been anything that stopped us this year. There won't be anything that stops us, period. Five years from now Mountainside will be known for their fight, that they don't give up when the chips are down."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainisde junior Andrew Simpson points ahead for a first dow against Barlow.

Ultimately and unfortunately, Barlow was just a bit better down the stretch. Still, down nine points with less than 10 minutes to go, the Bruins promptly marched down the field, only this time they finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass that brought them within 16-13 with 7:41 left. And while Mountainside's offense went three-and-out, the left-footed Dahlback pinned Barlow deep with a field-flipping 65-yard punt that placed Barlow all the way back at its own 15. Dahlback, with three field goals and many high-rise, long ball punts, was fantastic.

But the Bruins went right for the kill. Senior quarterback Jacob Hunter dropped back and hit Kyle Markham on a post route in the open field. The Bruin senior receiver ran through a tackle and made a break for the right sideline, racing down to the Mav 26. Then, Barlow senior running back Nick Collins bowled his way into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown and a 20-16 Barlow lead.

The teams traded punts before Mountainside got the ball last, with 2:28 remaining and no timeouts. Brian Mannion, still in the beginning phase of his quarterbacking tenure, went to work. The sophomore found Dahlback, Simpson and Hughes for chain-moving gains. The pass-catchers made sure to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Fullback Tyler Adewumi made two crucial fourth-down runs. Yet, Barlow sacked Brian Mannion in bounds and forced an incomplete pass on consecutive plays. With the ball sitting at the Bruin 47, Brian Mannion tried to hit Simpson down the right sideline, but his pass was picked by a lurking Barlow defensive back to secure the semifinal bid.

Head coach John Mannion had the seemingly impossible task of constructing a program from scratch, in the notoriously tough Beaverton School District football, with players from all over the Metro League who never competed on the same teams growing up. A season nobody outside the Maverick program saw coming ended in the 6A quarterfinals with an 8-4 record and a new standard for a program that's broken the mold. When a new school opens, especially in a hotbed like Beaverton, football is normally the last sport to get up to speed and experience prolonged success. The other athletic programs simply don't field nearly as big of teams in terms of numbers, don't have to worry about the far-reaching logistics, alinging youth levels with the varsity ethos, instructing the freshmen and junior varsity levels. It's yeoman's work, getting a team off the ground into high gear so swiftly.

The last two years could've been overly messy. Many Metro League newcomers have been embarrassed in their early origins. Established Hillsboro-area programs that were placed in Metro by the OSAA asked out after only two or three seasons. Fresh programs aren't built to survive in the state playoffs, either, normally. But John Mannion shaped Mountainside with a foundation constructed upon competition, togetherness and care for one another. For all the transplants and newcomers entering the new school three years ago, this group coalesced quickly and formatively, with Mannion ensuring the team took precedence over anything else. The right leader is in place moving forward. The pieces are prepared. Mountainside came of age early, now it's time to move forward with John Mannion taking them to the next level, the next step in the process.

"If any other coach had come in and started this from the ground up, I don't think we'd be here right now," Broussard said. "It all starts with (John) Mannion for sure. He took a group of guys from a lot of different schools who didn't really know each other and made us a family. He made sure we knew it wasn't about the individual person, it was about the team from day one. I couldn't ask for more."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Mountainside junior fullback Ty Adewumi and senior offensive lineman Shane Gerber signal a key first down against Barlow.

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