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Oregon City weathered Tigard's hot start, but the Pioneers' comeback attempt falls short as the Tigers stay unbeaten.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon City sophomore quarterback Ben Schneider attempts to evade Tigard senior linebacker Reese Hare in the Pioneers' 36-23 loss to the Tigers on Thursday, Sept. 29, at Pioneer Memorial Stadium in Oregon City.

The Oregon City High School football team is stronger than it has been in some time.

As with any maturation process, some growing pains are to be expected.

Indeed, those pains came to fruition at home Thursday night, Sept. 29, as the Pioneers lost 36-23 to Tigard in both teams' Three Rivers League opener. With the result, Oregon City falls to 3-2 and 0-1 in Three Rivers League play. Tigard, meanwhile, remains undefeated at 5-0 and is now 1-0 in league games.

"We're trying to be winners," said Oregon City junior lineman Ryder Swanson of the team's goal following the loss. "We're still learning how to do that."

The season does not get any easier from this point forward. Oregon City is staring at a league slate that still has matchups with Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, Tualatin and West Linn on the docket.

"We need to come out in the second half (of the season) fighting as a team," he added. "We're doing a great job of that right now. We just need to clean up some little things, and we'll be right in the game."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Oregon City senior linebacker Ethan Hopwood (right) runs in a 49-yard defensive touchdown for the Pioneers during a 36-23 loss to Tigard on Thursday, Sept. 29, at Pioneer Memorial Stadium in Oregon City.

After the Tigers jumped out to an early 16-0 lead Thursday, Oregon City got a defensive score when Swanson knocked the ball out of Tigard quarterback Jake Feist's hands and into the waiting arms of senior linebacker Ethan Hopwood, who ran 49 yards to open the scoring for the Pioneers.

The deficit shrunk to as little as three points after Pioneer quarterback Ben Schneider hit senior wide receivers Jake Lopez and Logan Fry for touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters, respectively. Marcus Jordan, a senior, also hit a field goal for the Pios.

The Tigers were able to keep Oregon City at bay, though, eventually sealing the game with a late interception by Roman Martin.

The Tigers' running attack ran rampant against the Oregon City defense, as running back Konner Grant led the charge with two rushing touchdowns. Feist, the Tigard quarterback, accounted for two scores of his own, including one on the ground and another through the air to Austin Goetz.

Despite the loss, this Oregon City team is still aiming for its first winning season in five years. The Pioneers already have more wins in 2022 than they logged in all of 2018, 2020 and 2021 combined — so the trajectory appears to be pointing upward.

"We've come a long way," Fry said. "Our new coach (Shane Hedrick) came in last July, and it's crazy how he's turned it around."

Fry does not discuss the team's growth in the abstract, either. The Pioneers are quite literally getting stronger every day.

"We had a pretty busted weight room last December, and (Hedrick) got all the fundraising figured out for that," Fry said. "Now, we've got a state-of-the-art weight room. It's really beautiful."

The senior also notes how Hedrick has instilled a new culture into the Oregon City locker room. It's a culture of strength, Fry says, something that has been missing from the Pioneers' recent teams.

"In previous years, we haven't had the size or the brute strength. Physicality-wise, we've really grown a lot," he said. "Our work ethic has changed. A lot of our traditions have changed. It's great what he's done."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Oregon City junior lineman Ryder Swanson (52) says the Pioneers are 'way better than last year.'

That improvement in the weight room is paying dividends on the gridiron, even if it doesn't always translate into wins.

"We play strong and aggressive as a whole in our front," Swanson said. "I have a lot of pride in our guys."

As the Pioneers gear up for league play, Swanson noted that they will mostly work on the little things — because, compared to recent years, this season already has been a success.

"Just focusing on our technique and staying with each other," said the junior of the plan moving forward.

"We're right there," he added. "We're way better than last year."

The Pioneers' will put that plan to the test next Friday, Oct. 7, when they head to Lake Oswego to take on the Lakers.

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