A.J. Noland embodied Tualatin High’s dominance in all three aspects of football – offense, defense and special teams – on Friday night in the Timberwolves’ 53-21 rout of Mountainside in the OSAA Class 6A quarterfinals.
Offensively, Noland set the tone for Tualatin right off the bat.
On the Timberwolves’ first play from scrimmage, the junior caught a short pass from senior quarterback Jack Wagner, darted through an opening and raced past several defenders for a 56-yard touchdown.
“After I caught the ball, I saw a hole,” Noland said. “I hit it, and I hit it hard. I was able to break through, and after that, it was all us.”
On special teams, Noland made a rough start for Mountainside even rougher. After falling behind 14-0 just over a minute into the first quarter, the Mavericks pulled within a touchdown when Noland returned a kickoff 85 yards to help widen Tualatin’s lead to 21-7.
Noland was quick to credit his blockers for making that happen, as was Timberwolves coach Dominic Ferraro.
“Five or six times this season, it seemed like we were one block away,” Ferraro said, thinking about times Noland was close to breaking open for a kick return score. “Tonight, we got that block.”
To hear Mountainside coach John Mannion tell it, Noland’s kickoff return all but broke the Mavericks’ backs.
“They made some big plays on us early that put us on our heels a little bit,” Mannion said. “It was discouraging.”
Just two plays into Mountainside’s next drive, Noland came through on defense, stepping in front of Mavericks quarterback Alex Ingalls’ intended receiver and picking off a pass. It was the Tualatin defense’s third interception of the first quarter.
“Our defensive line was getting some good pressure and was able to force some throws that were difficult for him to make,” Noland said.
Noland’s efforts earned the Timberwolves (9-2, and the Class 6A state runner-up a year ago) a date with unbeaten Sheldon (11-0) in next week’s semifinals. However, he was but one contributor on a night when Tualatin had a ton of them.
Defensively, Noland was one of four Tualatin defenders with first-half interceptions — all of which led to scores. Junior linebacker Liam Pickering hauled in the first one in Mountainside territory on the Mavericks’ first play from scrimmage, setting the stage for senior running back Luke Ash to score from eight yards out two plays later.
Just three plays after Noland’s kick return touchdown, senior defensive back Nassei Lynn returned an interception 41 yards for a pick-six. And roughly midway through the second quarter, senior linebacker Kevin Interian snagged another pick deep in Mountainside territory, putting Tualatin in prime position for Wagner to connect with senior tight end Richie Anderson for a 32-yard touchdown two plays later.
It was Anderson’s second touchdown catch of the night, and Wagner’s third touchdown pass. Wagner completed 10 of 14 passes for 195 yards through the air, with Anderson catching six passes for 116 yards.
Rushing-wise, Ash finished with 128 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Senior running back Bodan Griffith also had a rushing TD for the Timberwolves.
As rough a night as Mountainside had, it was not without its bright spots. With the Mavericks already trailing 14-0 with 10:49 left in the first quarter, Ingalls marched his team down the field on a 10-play, 69-yard drive that senior Quinn O’Connor capped with a seven-yard touchdown run.
Ingalls opened the second quarter by leading Mountainside on a 68-yard drive that had begun at the end of the first. The junior capped the drive — which included passes of 19 yards or longer to both Brandon Boe and Elym Young — by hitting senior running back Jared Lang for a 5-yard touchdown.
Young scored the game’s final touchdown with roughly 1:30 remaining. And defensively, the Mavericks blocked both an extra-point kick and a field-goal attempt.
In the end, however, there simply was no catching Tualatin.
“We had a hard time slowing them down,” said Mannion, who noted that at 9-2, Mountainside had earned its best record in school history. “That kickoff return was especially tough. They have big-play capabilities, and they got us with it. Defensively, they have so much team speed and size, they stretch you in so many directions, they’re hard to contain.
“But I’m proud of my team. I’m beaming with pride for my boys.”