The Tigers advance to the Class 6A semifinals with a 24-21 victory over the Lions

TIDINGS PHOTO: MILES VANCE - West Linn senior Cody Fretwell holds the ball aloft after recovering an onside kick with 52 seconds left in his team's 24-21 loss to Tigard in the Class 6A state quarterfinals at West Linn High School on Friday.It was a battle from the start.

Two powerhouses trading blow after blow.

Back and forth it went.

And it wasn't decided until the West Linn football team's furious late-game rally fell short in the last minute of Friday's Class 6A state quarterfinal at West Linn High School.

The Lions, trailing the Tigard High School football team by 10 points in the contest's final minutes, scored a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining, recovered the ensuing onside kick and advanced to the Tigard 37-yard line before junior quarterback Ethan Long's final throw was intercepted by Tiger senior Skylar Holloway to seal his team's 24-21 victory.

"We just couldn't finish it on (offense), but we played to the last second," said senior linebacker Zack Huffstutter, who made the hit that jarred the ball loose on the late-game onside kick. "I'm proud of how our seniors battled. We just made a few too many mistakes early on offense, and on defense, we gave up a few big plays and that cost us down the line."

"They came out and got us early, but we bounced back. We went back to the drawing board and … came together," said senior linebacker Luke Hamper. "I was just proud of how the guys fought back. We came up a little short, but I wouldn't trade this team for anything."

The Tigers, meanwhile, were on top of the world after beating West Linn for the second time this season.

"I can't put this into words," said Holloway, who had a pair of interceptions in the victory. "This is just amazing. We prepared the whole week and played so hard. It's just unbelievable."

"This means a lot to us," said Tigard junior running back Malcolm Stockdale, who rushed for a game-high 141 yards in the victory. "We get to put in a lot more hard work now. This shows we can play with anybody. No one can stop us when we're playing well."

"This is a big step and a huge win," said Tigard freshman quarterback Drew Carter, who ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the win. "Hats off to West Linn. They played well and so did we, and we came out on top."

With the loss, defending state champion West Linn, the third-place team out of the Three Rivers League and the No. 3 team in the power rankings, finished its season with a final record of 9-3. No. 6 Tigard, the Three Rivers League co-champion, improved to 10-2 on the season and advanced to the state semifinals for a second straight year; there, the Tigers will face unbeaten Mt. Hood Conference champion Clackamas (12-0 after a 17-14 win over Central Catholic on Friday) at noon Friday at Hillsboro Stadium.

Holloway may have had the final big play in Friday's showdown, but he also had the first one. On the opening play from scrimmage, Holloway intercepted a West Linn pass that gave Tigard the ball at the Lion 44-yard line.

"I knew that they would target me," Holloway said of his first interception. "I saw (West Linn sophomore wide receiver Casey Tawa) come across, then I saw the ball and got it."

It didn't take Tigard long to capitalize on the turnover. Turning to the running game, the Tigers moved 56 yards in 12 plays, capping off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run by Stockdale, giving Tigard a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes and 32 seconds left in the first quarter.

After the Tigard "D" forced a quick West Linn punt, the Tigers struck through the air on their second possession. Carter, on a play action pass, found junior tight end Noah Jackman open on the left side of the field for a 46-yard touchdown pass, upping the Tigard lead to 14-0 with 17.4 seconds left to play in the opening period.

"That was big," Carter said with a smile. "I owe that to my line. They gave me a lot of time to pass. I saw Noah open and he made a great play. That felt great."

The Lions came battling back in the second quarter. West Linn junior quarterback Ethan Long completed passes of 30 yards to senior Qawi Ntsasa and 23 yards to senior Cody Fretwell to set up his own 14-yard scoring run, coming on a quarterback draw and cutting the Tigard lead to 14-7 with 5:23 left in the period.

The Lions had a chance to get even closer before the half ended after an interception by Fretwell gave them the ball at their own 47-yard line with 2:14 remaining in the quarter. West Linn moved the ball all the way to the Tigard six-yard line, where they had a first down with 14 seconds to play before halftime. But after two incomplete passes, Long threw a short pass to senior James Marshall, but he was tackled at the two-yard line — and with the Lions out of timeouts — time expired in the half, leaving the Tigers with a 14-7 lead.

But Long and the Lions wouldn't be denied in the third quarter. With West Linn facing a fourth-and-one situation at its own 45-yard line, Long broke through the line and sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 7:07 left in the period.

The teams remained tied going into the fourth quarter, but there, it was Tigard that took over with another long scoring drive. Behind the running of Leavitt and Stockdale, with a 31-yard pass from Carter to junior receiver Jazz Ross mixed in, Tigard advanced to the West Linn 14-yard line.

There, facing a fourth-and-two situation, Carter ran around the right end on a bootleg play and sprinted just inside the right pylon for a touchdown and a 21-14 advantage with 6:32 left in the contest.

"I almost tripped," Carter said. "I got a great block from (Tigard senior receiver Jakob Harrold), and I was able to get to the end zone. That felt great. I was so excited."

Then it was the Tigard defense's turn to come up with another big play. Junior linebacker Carter Dennis came up with that play, intercepting a West Linn pass and returning the ball 31 yards to the West Linn 19-yard line.

"I just read the route, and jumped it," Dennis said. "That was my first interception and it felt really good. I just ran down the sideline. I didn't know what to do."

The turnover helped set up a 29-yard field goal by Tigard sophomore Jackson Cleaver that extended the Tiger lead to 24-14 with just 3:33 left to play in the game.

But that lead wasn't safe.

The Lions, behind Long, weren't about to give up. A 22-yard pass from Long to Tawa helped set up an 11-yard scoring strike from Long to senior Hayden Bromley that trimmed the Tigard lead to 24-21 with 54.4 seconds left to play in the game.

Things then got real interesting. West Linn senior kicker Davis Schmitz sent the onside kick to the right side of the field where Huffstutter drilled Tigard's Travis Moler just as the ball arrived and Fretwell recovered for the Lions at the Tigard 43-yard line with a chance to tie or win the game in the final 52 seconds.

"When we went out for the onside kick, I knew we were going to get it," Huffstutter said. "We subbed in all the right kids, put in all our best guys — we knew we were going to get it."

"That was nerve-wracking," Leavitt said.

A six-yard pass from Long to Bromley moved the ball to the Tigard 37-yard line with 47 seconds remaining, but on the next play, Holloway came up with his game-clinching interception on a pass to the left side.

"I saw the ball, and I said 'It's mine,'" Holloway said. "I went and got it. It felt unbelievable. It was amazing."

"Thank the Lord for Skylar Holloway," Leavitt said with a smile.

For West Linn, Long completed 21 of 44 pass attempts for 278 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions; in addition, he rushed eight times for 71 yards. Tawa had five receptions for 78 yards, and Ntsasa had three catches for 76 yards, all coming in the first half before he sat out the second half due to an injury.

For the Lions' defense, senior Seth Bagley had a quarterback sack and senior Tyler Good, senior Justin Babcock and Hamper each had a tackle for a loss.

In addition to Stockdale's 141 yards on 19 carries, Leavitt picked up 81 yards on 29 carries. Carter completed 4 of 6 passes for 125 yards, with senior Braden Lenzy making one catch for 41 yards, in addition to playing strong defense in the secondary in his return to action after missing the previous four Tigard games due to injury.

For the Tiger defense, Jackman, senior Spencer Smith and junior Mitchell Cross each had a tackle for a loss.

As painful as Friday's loss was, the Lions left proud of their efforts and their season.

"This season was good," Hamper said. "We fought hard, overcame some adversity, especially for us transfers, coming over here and bonding with the guys, making the most out of it and just grinding in the summer to try and have a state title chase."

"I'm just going to remember all the fun I had with this team," West Linn senior linebacker Taran Floyd said. "This was my first time playing football for West Linn and it's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had. I loved the team, love the coaches, love the program. It was amazing."

— Miles Vance contributed to this story

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