Tigard to face Central Catholic Saturday in battle of unbeatens

by: DAN BROOD - RUNNING STRONG -- Tigard junior Tyler Walker doesn't let anything get in his way as he scores a touchdown during the Tigers' state playoff quarterfinal victory over North Medford. PORTLAND — Unstoppable force.

Immovable object.

Let’s play ball.

The much-awaited showdown of Class 6A high school football powers will finally happen Saturday when Tigard faces Central Catholic in a state playoff semifinal battle of unbeatens set to start at 4 p.m. at Jeld-Wen Field.

“It’s going to be a great game,” Tigard senior lineman Alex Anohkin said following the Tigers’ 42-0 win over North Medford in a state playoff quarterfinal game played Friday at Tigard High School.

“We’re excited for the game, and I’m sure they are too,” Tigard senior fullback/linebacker A.J. Hotchkins said. “We’ll be ready.”

“It’s two great teams, and it’s going to be a battle the whole time,” Tigard senior tight end/linebacker Jake Biglow said.

Central Catholic, the Mt. Hood Conference champion and the No. 3 team in the final OSAA power rankings, brings a perfect 12-0 record into Saturday’s semifinal tilt.

“We hope we can give them a game,” Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne said. “We’re playing pretty good, but so are they.”

Tigard, the Pacific Conference champion and No. 2 team in the final OSAA power rankings, also will take an unblemished 12-0 mark into Saturday’s semifinal contest.

“For our kids to be playing in the semifinals is special,” Tigard coach Craig Ruecker said. “It will be a great experience for the whole community and for our high school football players. We’ll see what happens.”

Saturday’s game will mark the second straight year that the Tigers and Rams will clash in postseason play. Last year, in a quarterfinal contest, Tigard rallied from four deficits to score a 43-37 win over Central Catholic in a game played at Hillsboro Stadium.

“Last year was an exciting game,” Pyne said. “But we wish we could have some of those plays back.”

“It was a great game last year and it will be a great game this year,” by: DAN BROOD - SPEED TO BURN -- Tigard senior Manu Rasmussen turns the corner during the Tigers' state playoff quarterfinal win over North Medford.Biglow said. “And it’s great to still be playing.”

In Saturday’s postseason rematch, the Tigers will be facing some of the same top Central Catholic players that they did battle with a year ago.

Among those players is Central Catholic senior quarterback Aidan Wilder (5-foot-10, 175 pounds), who is in his fourth year as the Rams’ starting signal caller. For the season, Wilder, a first-team All-Mt. Hood Conference selection, has completed 118 of 182 pass attempts for 1,967 yards and 26 touchdowns with five interceptions. Wilder passed for 309 yards in last year’s postseason game against Tigard.

Central Catholic boasts a powerful combination at running back in seniors Cameron Scarlett (6-1, 208) and Ryan Nall (6-3, 235).

For the season, Scarlett, a first-team all-conference pick, has rushed for 1,206 yards and 16 touchdowns on 116 carries and Nall, a second-team all-conference selection, has ran for 1,168 yards and 15 scores on 103 carries.

“Cam is elusive and fast and Ryan is big and fast,” Pyne said.

Scarlett also is the team’s top receiver with 31 catches for 660 yards and seven more scores. Senior receiver Zach Davis (5-10, 170), a first-team all-conference pick, has 29 receptions for 549 yards and nine touchdowns.

Up front, the Rams have a pair of first-team all-conference selections in junior left tackle Brake Brandel (6-4, 200) and senior Connor Humphreys (6-3, 268), who anchors the Central Catholic offensive line.

Humphreys usually plays at right guard, but Pyne says “he can play wherever we need him.”

“Everything starts and finishes with our offensive and defensive lines,” Pyne said.

by: DAN BROOD - GOOD JOB -- Tigard head coach Craig Ruecker congratulates Tiger receiver Daren Rodrigues following a touchdown catch in Friday's state playoff quarterfinal victory over North Medford. And, as is the case on offense, Humphreys also anchors the Rams’ defensive line, playing at nose guard.

“I have yet to see him get blocked by a single person so far this year,” Pyne said.

Other key defensive linemen for Central Catholic include junior Sam Gomez (6-0, 195), senior Sean Rogers (6-2, 200) and senior Donovan Manning (6-0, 185). Although, Pyne says that the Rams rotate nine or 10 players on the defensive line.

“We make an effort to play a lot of guys,” he said.

Central Catholic also looks strong at linebacker.

“We have an outstanding group of linebackers,” Pyne said.

Nall plays at outside linebacker while the Rams have a pair of sophomores, Ronnie Rust (6-0, 180) and LaMar Winston (6-3, 185), who play at inside linebacker in Central Catholic’s 3-4 defense. Junior Matt Vanoudenhaegen (5-10, 185), sophomore Tyson Cooper (5-9, 170) and senior Jon McFarland (5-10, 180) see action at outside linebacker.

The Central Catholic secondary is led by senior safety Aaron Washington (6-1, 185).

“He’s one of the best in the state,” Pyne said. Senior Derek Reed (6-0, 185) will also play at safety while senior A.J. Newman (5-9, 165) and junior Saadiq Calhoun (5-9, 165) will be at cornerback.

“They have a lot of team speed, like we do,” Ruecker said. “And, to their credit, they’ve kept their focus, like our kids have.”

And Tigard, like Central Catholic, has compiled some impressive statistics this season.

Senior Manu Rasmussen (6-1, 185), the Pacific Conference Offensive Player of the Year, leads the Tigard rushing attack with 1,877 yards and 31 touchdowns on 147 carries.

Tiger senior quarterback Jett Even (6-4, 195) has completed 121 of 178 pass attempts for 2,418 yards with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Senior Daren Rodrigues (5-9, 170) is Tigard’s top receiver with 39 catches for 970 yards and seven touchdowns.

On defense, senior safety Bruin Campbell (5-11, 165) leads the Tigers with seven interceptions. Senior defensive end Nick Duron (6-4, 205) paces the team with 11.5 quarterback sacks. Senior defensive end Joe Lobbato (6-3, 210) has a team-best 55 total tackles to go with six sacks and five fumble recoveries.

by: DAN BROOD - TO THE FINAL FOUR -- Tigard senior lineman Alex Anohkin (77) jumps in the air following the Tigers' state playoff quarterfinal win over North Medford.“Coach Ruecker always does a great job getting his kids to play extremely hard,” Pyne said. “Their defense runs around and they look very good on offense. Up front, they might not be as big as they’ve been in the past, but they’re just as skilled.”

And, the Tigers say they’ll be ready on Saturday.

“The intensity will be really high,” Duron said. “We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

“We’re definitely going to be pumped up,” Rasmussen said. “It’s going to be a great one.”

“Our team will come out with a good game plan, and we’ll be ready,” Lobbato said. “We all believe in each other.”

As for Saturday’s game itself, Pyne says almost anything is possible.

“It could be a 7-6 game, or it could be a 55-54 game,” he said. “Like coach Ruecker, I would like to have a five-touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“It ought to be a lot of fun,” Ruecker said. “I anticipate that it’s going to be a great one.”

Jesuit and Canby will play in Saturday’s other state playoff semifinal contest. That game will start at noon at Jeld-Wen Field.

The winner of Saturday’s two semifinal contests will face-off in the state championship game, which will be played Dec. 7 at Jeld-Wen Field.

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