PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Back in June, the Tigard senior class came together and met, hoping they could walk away with a team mantra. The search took them through a couple of ideas before they found one that suited everything they hoped to become.
By the first game the Tigers had it plastered to the front of their helmets: U.N.I.T.E.D, an acronym that signifies their team mentality in the single word it displays.
“We need to be united as one,” said senior linebacker Jacob Beck,” and that”s what we’ve stuck to all year and it’s shown in our play.”
Five months later, on a cold, foggy Friday night, the Tigers personified their mantra more than anyone could’ve anticipated when they created it. Without Braden Lenzy — the Three Rivers League Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year — and without first-team all-conference center Sean Ryan, the Tigers compiled a complete team performance, beating Tualatin 38-17 for the second time in 2 weeks to head into the 6A quarterfinals.
See full highlights from this game and other KOIN 6 Blitz game below
“We have not played one football game out of 11 now with what we thought was going to be our starting lineup,” Tigard head coach Craig Ruecker said.
“We have a number of things that have happened and our players continue to be a team.”
The Tigers will face West Linn in the next round, who they beat 9-0 earlier this season.
The Tigard defense was especially key on Friday night. The Tigers held Tualatin to 270 total yards, forcing 2 turnovers along the way. Sophomore Max Lenzy had a pick-six in the second quarter that put the game out of reach.
“Our defense and our offensive line have been the backbone of our team all season,” Ruecker said.
That defensive backbone got cracked early on against Tualatin. The Timberwolves had a big kickoff return to start the game — which they turned into a field goal — and added a 60-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Dernedde to John Miller, giving Tualatin an early 9-0 lead.
Trailing early, the Tigard defense needed to come together. For inspiration, all they had to do was take one look at a teammates’ helmet.
“It reminds us when a mistake happens, we still have our team,” Beck said. “Things are going to go wrong — it’s football. But you always have your team and we’re united as one.”
Soon enough, the offense picked it up. Led by the hard running of Spencer Smith and Jake Leavitt — who both had touchdown runs — the Tigers found a rhythm, breaking through a Tualatin defense that started stout. Tigard finished with 254 rushing yards. Freshman quarterback Drew Carter and Malcolm Stockdale also had touchdown runs.
“Offensively we did enough good things to move the ball and score points,” Ruecker said. “It was a good job form our kids against a very good team.”
Despite what they’re missing, Tigard has discovered a lot about itself through 11 weeks. They’ve learned being a U.N.I.T.E.D. team is paramount when it comes to late fall football success.
But, coach Ruecker, how has this team actually been able to turn an acronym on a helmet into an embodied mantra?
“Well,” he said with a slight pause, “they’re just really good kids.”
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