Clackamas thumps Tigard 52-7, advances to 6A championship final
HILLSBORO -- Once Clackamas got on a roll Friday afternoon, there was little Tigard could do to stop the Cavaliers from making school history.
The No. 2 Cavaliers destroyed the No. 6 Tigers 52-7 in Friday's semifinals at Hillsboro Stadium to advance to the OSAA Class 6A championship for the first time.
Senior quarterback Mitchell Modjeski passed for 247 yards and three touchdowns, and the Clackamas defense forced five turnovers while limiting Tigard's vaunted running atacck to 88 yards rushing, sending the Cavaliers (13-0) into Saturday's 12:30 p.m. final at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.
Clackamas will face No. 5 South Medford (12-1), a 49-27 winner over top-ranked Lake Oswego in Friday's other semifinal.
"Going to the championship final is a huge thing for us, but it's not good enough just to go there," Modjeski said. "We want to win it all, and we're going to have that mindset going in."
Clackamas all but put the game away before halftime after scoring on each of its first four offensive possessions and then getting a defensive touchdown to take a 35-0 lead with 8:10 remaining in the second quarter.
"Give our kids a lot of credit," Clackamas coach Joe Bushman said. "You could tell from the get-go that they were really focused and really hungry to win."
Trailing 42-7 at halftime, the Tigers (10-3) never could get their ground game to do much of anything in the second half, and their passing attack also proved ineffective in a game that ended with the final 5:40 being played with a running clock.
"The bottom line is that Clackamas was a better football team," Tigard coach Craig Ruecker said. "This game got away from us real fast. They hit a couple big pass pays, but I thought that the real key to the game was Clackamas' defensive line.
"We have been able against everyone to run the football and then throw when we wanted to throw. Today, we had more third-and-7s and third-and-8s than we've had all season, and that's a credit to Clackamas' defensive front. You couple that with the fact that we turned the ball over umpteen times and … Clackamas did a great job."
The Cavaliers could not have scripted a better start, beginning with Tigard winning the opening coin toss and electing to defer until the second-half kickoff.
Clackamas took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in two plays, taking a 7-0 lead when senior wide receiver Cole Turner scored on a 63-yard flanker screen pass from Modjeski.
"The start we got off to was huge," Turner said. "Mitchell threw it out to me and gave me a chance to make a play, and it helped that Hudson Bishop made a huge block for me.
"Playing with the lead made a huge difference. Tigard's not really a team that's built to come from behind. They're a run-first team, so once we got them down, we were able to bury them."
Senior tailback James Millspaugh added two rushing touchdowns and then senior tight end Chad Bletko caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Modjeski -- the last two scores set up by Tigard turnovers -- to push the lead to 28-0 with 9:08 to play in the second quarter.
At that point, the Cavaliers had 210 yards total offense to Tigard's 50 yards and two turnovers.
The Tigers faced a third-and-9 from their own 21 when freshman quarterback Drew Carter dropped to pass and fumbled under pressure from Clackamas senior linebacker Justice Pagan. The ball bounced back into the end zone where junior defensive tackle Kelsen Hennessy recovered for a touchdown, making it 35-0 with 8:10 to play in the half.
"Our defensive front and everyone on defense played pretty well," Hennessy said. "We came in laser-focused after one of our better weeks of practice and knew we had to stop the run, and we did that very well.
"You can always play better, but this was a really good game for us. Once we took a big lead, Tigard just got shook and we just kept our foot on the gas pedal."
Tigard finally got on the scoreboard when Spencer Smith caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Carter at the end of an eight-play, 87-yard drive with 4:39 to play in the first half.
The Tigers got the ball one more time before the half, but failed to convert on fourth-and-1 from their own 25, giving the ball back to the Cavaliers with 53 seconds left in the half.
Two plays later, Clackamas was in the end zone, Bletko scoring on a 21-yard pass from Modjeski to make it 42-7.
"We were having trouble stopping Clackamas, we had no momentum, so, yes, I went for a couple fourth-and-1 plays," Ruecker said. "Normally, if it's a one-touchdown game, you punt the ball. But today we had to do something to try and light a spark, and we really couldn't do that."
Modjeski said Tigard's first mistake may have been when the Tigers won the coin toss and elected to kick instead of receive the opening kickoff.
"Something we emphasized in the locker room before the game was that we needed to come out and jump on Tigard early," said Modjeski, who completed 8 of 9 passes for 184 yards and three TDs in the first half. "Given the opportunity to receive the ball first and try to get on the scoreboard first was really big for us.
"From that point on, we had the momentum, which played right into our game plan."
Tigard's first drive of the second half ended with a punt, the next two ended when the Tigers failed to convert on fourth down, and the fourth drive ended with an interception that Clackamas senior linebacker Jakobe Erskine returned 43 yards for a touchdown that made it 52-7 with 5:40 remaining.
"We knew if we took the run away that Tigard was going to have a tough time passing, because our defensive backs are the best in the state," Erskine said. "After halftime, we were still hungry. We didn't want to show any flaws in our game plan. We wanted to come through and execute, and that's exactly what we did."
Said senior linebacker Kolby Barber: "It was a great performance from both the offense and the defense. Tigard definitely played hard. It was a tough game. They came out fighting. They just had a few mistakes early, and we just executed better than they did.
"In all honestly, I didn't believe the game would be as lopsided as it was. I thought it would be a lot closer. When we got such a big lead, it might have got to us, but at the same time, we still buckled down and stopped them."
By the numbers
Clackamas finished with 355 yards total offense to Tigard's 167, and had 15 first downs to the Tigers' 10. The Cavaliers also converted 7 of 11 third-down opportunities, while Tigard was 2 of 12 on third down and 2 of 6 on fourth down.
"We're not happy with the outcome today, but we still love each other, and we still stayed united," Tigard senior lineman Burke Albaugh said. "Clackamas is very good. They're strong up front, and they wanted it just as bad as we did. After halftime, we could have rolled over, but we wanted to keep playing hard until the final whistle."
Carter, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound freshman who was No. 5 on Tigard's depth chart at quarterback before injuries forced him into the starting role, completed 9 of 23 passes for 70 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also was sacked twice.
"We played hard all season, and I'm so proud of the team" Carter said. "We knew we'd never give up. Today, things didn't go our way, but we continued to play Tigard football."
Modjeski, the Mt. Hood Conference Offensive Player of the Year, completed 13 of 15 passes and his 247 yards marked the 10th time in 13 games and second time in the playoffs that he had passed for 200 or more yards in a game.
"I think we're playing right up to our full potential," Modjeski said. "With championship week rolling around, it's good that we seem to be hitting our stride right now."
After falling in last year's semifinals to eventual champion West Linn, the Cavaliers went into this season with four primary team goals: Win the Mt. Hood Conference opener; win the league title; go undefeated at home, and win a state championship.
They've already checked off the first three goals, and now are in position to make the last one a reality.
"It's really satisfying to represent our school, our community, and in some ways the whole East Side in next week's championship final," Bushman said. "We kind of get, I think, a bad rap sometimes when it comes to football -- the Mt. Hood Conference, in particular, and the East Side, in general. So, being able to carry the torch makes me real proud.
"I'm also real proud of the kids, because the majority of our kids are Clackamas kids. They grew up in the community and I've known them since they were wee-tall. And to see them hang in there, even though we had some thin years seven or eight years ago, and to stay with it and keep believing … that's kind of cool and kind of the way I think it's supposed to be.
"You go to your neighborhood school, you come together and you have pride, you play with the guys you grew up with … man, there's a lot to be said for that. I think it makes what is happening with this team that much more special."