Tualatin falls short in 28-14 loss to Sheldon
You can't fault the effort, but minus key contributors on both sides of the ball it was a tall task for Tualatin against No. 2-seeded Sheldon in the state football semifinals, and in the end it showed by way of a 28-14 Irish win Friday night, Nov. 18, at McNary High School in Salem.
Illness swept through the Timberwolves team early in the week, costing the No. 3-seeded Wolves a couple lineman and standout receiver and defensive back A.J. Noland. But despite being a bit shorthanded, Tualatin head coach Dominic Ferraro took nothing from Sheldon who he said ultimately deserved to win the game.
"Whatever's going around right now ran through our team," Ferraro said. "I don't want to take anything away from Sheldon because they're good and they've got dudes everywhere, but we just didn't get the practice we needed this week."
Yet, they had their chances and on multiple occasions were in position to hang with the undefeated Irish. But three times in the first half and once more in the second, the normally high-powered Wolves offense came away without points despite moving the ball inside the Sheldon 30 yard line.
Typically, you can't do that against most teams, and definitely not against teams the likes of the No. 2-seeded Irish.
"You've got to score," Ferraro said. "But we just didn't have it tonight and I give all that credit to Sheldon. They had a great game plan and executed what they wanted to do."
The Irish were led by a stout defense that tallied four sacks and in all, 11.5 tackles-for-loss.
Sheldon quarterback Brock Thomas—who threw for 173 yards, rushed for 47 yards and accounted for three touchdowns overall—pointed directly at that defense for setting the tone against what he said they knew was a formidable Timberwolves offensive unit.
"I thought our defense played really well," Thomas said. "We knew they had a ton of good athletes and are a great team, but we knew if we prepared and executed we'd be in good shape. The defense was impressive."
The offense wasn't bad either.
Sheldon scored in just four plays on the game's opening drive, getting a Thomas to Teitum Tuioti 30 yd touchdown pass just 1:58 into the game.
Tualatin answered on their first possession, going 76 yards in 11 plays, capped by a Luke Ash 13-yard touchdown run. The extra point was blocked however, leaving the Wolves trailing 7-6.
The Irish used a little trickery on their next possession, scoring from 47 yards when receiver Luke Leighton connected with Cade Welch on the back-end of a double pass to push Sheldon ahead 14-6 midway through the first quarter. Thomas said they're not afraid to dig into their bag of tricks, and in fact believes it's part of their identity.
"We've been running those plays for 20 years," the Sheldon quarterback said. "That's something that Sheldon has always done and we know when to use them, and most of the time they're successful."
Tualatin's offense found success as well, tying the game with 2:19 left before half when quarterback Jack Wagner found Naasei Lynn in the back of the endzone from 30 yards, and a successful two-point conversion play made it 14-14.
Sheldon quickly answered however, taking a 21-14 lead just before half when Thomas found Luke Leighton for an 8-yard scoring pass.
The Timberwolves had two opportunities to tie the game to start the third quarter but went three-and-out on their opening possession and stalled deep in Irish territory on their second, continuing a trend that left Wagner with nothing but praise for the Sheldon defense.
"They had three or four guys on that defensive line that were just always there," Wagner said. "Their whole defense was tough, their coverage was good, we couldn't really do much."
The Irish capped the scoring and put the game out of reach when Thomas ran one in from 2 yards out late in the third quarter, earning a shot at West Linn—who defeated Central Catholic in the night's other semifinal—whom they defeated 35-31 in Week-2 of this season. Thomas said he knows the Lions will offer a stiff challenge, but also said he and his teammates are excited for another opportunity to grapple with the state's No. 1-seeded team.
"We know they're a really good team and have a lot of players," Thomas said. "It's going to be a dogfight, but we're excited to go play them again."
And Tualatin? Their season is over. But their coach said they should hold their heads high based on what they accomplished not only this season, but for the seniors what they accomplished over the span of their four-year career.
"I couldn't be prouder of the way the guys played," Ferraro said. "Their effort, their grit and toughness was incredible. It sucks because you know, everyone wanted to keep playing because they love football and love each other and wanted to keep going, but it didn't work out. It's been an awesome season though and this senior class had a heck of a good run."
"I'm really proud of this team," he said. "Words can't really describe what we accomplished this year. I think we showed that even with two losses we deserved to be in the final four. I wish we could've been in the final two, but it didn't work out."
Ash finished the night with 105 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Wagner threw for 218 yards and a score, while Jayden Fortier caught seven balls for 85 yards
Leighton led Sheldon with five catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Sheldon will play West Linn in next week's state championship game at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at Hillsboro Stadium.
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