Tigard claims the top spot in the Pacific Conference with its 35-7 victory
by: DAN BROOD CELEBRATION TIME — Tigard High School coach Craig Ruecker celebrates with the Tiger players and fans following the team's 35-7 win over Tualatin.

TIGARD - Niko Freni was somewhat quiet, and hurting a little bit.

Zach Floyd seemed to be a bit overwhelmed.

Isaac Schimmels, talking non-stop, looked like he was totally filled with adrenaline.

But that trio, and the rest of their teammates on the Tigard High School football team, had something in common.

They were happy - no, make that downright overjoyed.

The Tigers enjoyed a well-earned jubilant celebration after they powered their way to a 35-7 win over rival Tualatin in a Pacific Conference showdown played Friday in front of a large, loud enthusiastic crowd Friday at Tigard High School.

'Oh my. This is overwhelming,' said Floyd, a junior running back who rushed for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 31 carries for Tigard in the victory. 'I've dreamed of this since I was little - playing varsity football against Tualatin and winning in a big way. It really means a lot to me.'

'This is just exciting, it's a huge rivalry,' said Freni, Tigard's senior quarterback who threw a touchdown pass and rushed for another score despite nursing a quadriceps bruise. 'I'm quiet right now, but I'm really happy. I think all the guys are about ready to burst.'

Tigard, which entered the game tied with the Timberwolves for the top spot in the Pacific Conference standings, improved to 4-0 in league play and to 6-0 o the season.

'This means a lot to us,' said Schimmels, who plays on the offensive and defensive line for the Tigers. 'They showed up to play, and it's always a game when we go against Tualatin. To come in here and win this the way we did really means a lot to us.'

Tualatin moved to 3-1 in league play and to 4-2 on the season with the setback.

'This was a tough game. They're a great team,' Tualatin senior receiver Nathan Suyematsu said. 'They have a huge line and they came out strong and we didn't step up to the challenge.'

Tigard, behind its offensive line - featuring junior center Matt Franz, guards Jarrad Schulte and Schimmels, tackles Ethan Lange and Jeremy Moore and tight ends Conner Olson and Jake Biglow, among others - wasted little time in making a statement in Friday's game.

In the Tigers' first offensive possession of the game, they marched 72 yards in 14 plays - all runs - capping off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run by Floyd, which gave Tigard a 7-0 lead with 3 minutes and 21 seconds left in the first quarter.

'We wanted to show we could run the ball,' said Floyd, who had 10 carries for 55 yards in the opening drive. 'They haven't seen an offense like ours.'

'Oh yeah, we liked that,' Moore said of Tigard's opening scoring drive. 'We hammered it down the hole.'

Tualatin answered right back. Timberwolf senior quarterback Travis Johnson scrambled 40 yards down the left sideline on a third-down play down to the Tigard 6-yard line. Three plays later, Tualatin senior running back Brady Watts powered his way into the end zone from a yard out to tie the game at 7-7 with 16 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Tigard regained the lead midway through the second quarter. A 72-yard pass from Freni to senior receiver Sean McGetrick set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Floyd, which gave Tigard a 14-7 advantage with 6:33 left in the period.

The Tigers, who carried their 14-7 lead to halftime, started the second half they same way they started the game - with a long, time-consuming scoring drive.

Tigard marched 70 yards in 11 plays for a score to start the third quarter. Freni was instrumental in the drive. He threw a 30-yard pass to Olson on a third-down play and he also had a 13-yard run on a bootleg play to the Tualatin 9-yard line.

Three plays later, on third-and-goal, Freni looked to run around the left side on another bootleg play. But the Wolves had that side of the field covered. Freni, improvising, cut back to the right side, broke open to the sideline and then dove over the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 21-7 lead with 6:19 left in the third quarter.

'I had to make a switch,' Freni said of the TD run. 'But everyone did their job to make that happen.'

'Niko Freni was electric tonight,' Schimmels said.

The electricity continued the next time the Tigers had the ball.

Tigard senior defensive lineman Nolan Friesen set that up when he recovered a Tualatin fumble on the Tigard 35-yard line. On the very next play, Freni connected with McGetrick for a 65-yard touchdown pass play on a play-action pass, with McGetrick making a reaching, fingertip catch and sprinting into the end zone, giving Tigard a 28-7 lead with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

'The line gave me great protection.,' Freni said. 'I have to give it to our line.'

'We make sure he never gets touched,' Moore said.

Tigard capped off its big night with a 23-yard touchdown run by junior Kaz Greene coming with 6:04 left in the contest, making the final score 35-7.

'We've wanted this for three years,' Schulte said. 'This is just awesome.'

'We are the epitome of a team,' Tigard coach Craig Ruecker said. 'We don't have any one person, or three people that we have to have. We have a whole team in every aspect, and that's really nice. This was a good win tonight. It was another step.'

'It was very physical out there,' Suyematsu said. 'They're the most physical team we've played. It was a hard-fought game by both teams.'

Tigard, as a team, rushed for 293 yards on 57 carries against Tualatin's stingy defense, which had gave up just 24 points on the season coming into the contest.

'Our offensive line created all kinds of opportunities for our playmakers,' Ruecker said.

'I think our offensive line is one of the strongest in the state,' said Floyd, who ran for 87 of his game-high 172 yards in the first half.

Greene added 65 rushing yards on 12 carries for the Tigers. Freni completed three of five pass attempts for 163 yards to go with 37 rushing yards. McGetrick had two catches for 137 yards.

For the Tigard defense, Schimmels had a pair of tackles for losses and Schulte had a quarterback sack.

For Tualatin, Johnson completed six of 16 pass attempts for 122 yards. He also led the Wolves with 48 rushing yards on 10 carries. Watts ran for 32 yards on nine carries. Junior receiver Andrew Schlottmann had three catches for 74 yards.

For the Tualatin defense, seniors Brandon Durdel and Alex Fonseca each had a tackle for a loss.

Both teams will be back in action on Thursday. Tigard travels to McMinnville and Tualatin will take on Glencoe at Hare Field in Hillsboro in 7 p.m. league contests.

'We'll come back and send a message,' Suyematsu said. 'We want to show that we're a better team that what we looked like tonight.'

For more on the Tigard-Tualatin game, including more photos, see the Oct. 13 issue of the Tigard/Tualatin Times.

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