Tualatin punches ticket to state title game

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Tualatin star Jayden Fortier finishes off a long reception in a 42-23 win, in which the tight end had four touchdown catches.
Tualatin star Jayden Fortier finishes off a long reception in a 42-23 win, in which the tight end had four touchdown catches. ADAM LITTMAN/TUALATIN LIFE
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Sherwood came into Friday’s semifinals matchup boasting the most dominant defense in the state, but the Bowmen had yet to go against star tight end Jayden Fortier. 

Fortier had a monster game on Friday, leading Tualatin (11-1) to a 42-23 win, earning the Timberwolves a spot in the state championship game for the second time in the last three years.

Tualatin quarterback Nolan Keeney had another huge playoff game, throwing for six touchdowns in a 42-23 win against Sherwood.
Tualatin quarterback Nolan Keeney had another huge playoff game, throwing for six touchdowns in a 42-23 win against Sherwood. ADAM LITTMAN/TUALATIN LIFE

The Arizona State commit caught four touchdowns and had more than 300 yards of receiving. 

“He’s the best player in Oregon by far,” Tualatin quarterback Nolan Keeney said. “He’s able to make so many plays for us. He’s a dude. I knew he was going to go out there and make a bunch of plays tonight.”

Keeney also had a huge playoff game, throwing for more than 400 yards and six touchdowns. 

One of the biggest plays Fortier made Friday was a rare catch that didn’t result in a touchdown. With less than 2 minutes to go in the first half, Tualatin trailed 23-21. Back-to-back penalties had the Timberwolves facing a third and 25 from the Sherwood 25-yard line. 

Tualatin's Tanner Dunn (No. 66) celebrates after recording a sack in a 42-23 win against Sherwood.
Tualatin’s Tanner Dunn (No. 66) celebrates after recording a sack in a 42-23 win against Sherwood. ADAM LITTMAN/TUALATIN LIFE

Keeney was under a ton of pressure, and danced around the backfield to avoid a few would-be tacklers and heaved the ball deep to Fortier. The senior tight end adjusted himself to come back for the throw, bringing in the catch with a defender in his face and another closing in fast. The play set up Tualatin on the 4-yard line, leading to a touchdown pass from Keeney to AJ Noland. 

“They covered it really well,” Keeney said. “I was running around trying to make a play. I trusted him. He made a crazy good catch. That gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime.”

The score put Tualatin up 28-23, a lead which the Timberwolves never relinquished, and capped off an electric first half. Tualatin’s offense has been clicking in the playoffs, but putting up 28 points by halftime was still a shock against Sherwood’s dominant defense. 

Coming into the semifinals, Sherwood hadn’t given up more than 21 points in a game this season, which it did in Week 1 of the season. Sherwood followed that up with seven straight shutouts. 

Tualatin's Calvin Evans makes a hard tackle.
Tualatin’s Calvin Evans makes a hard tackle. ADAM LITTMAN/TUALATIN LIFE

Unfortunately for Sherwood, it ran into a rejuvenated Tualatin offense, which has taken off since the start of the playoffs. The biggest change for Tualatin this playoffs has been the return of Keeney. The junior quarterback was off to a fast start in his first year at Tualatin, but broke his left collarbone on Sept. 22 and missed the rest of the regular season.

While Keeney was out, wide receiver AJ Noland filled in as quarterback, going 4-1 in league play as the starter.

“We made it through hardest league in the state with one loss to a great West Linn team,” Fortier said. “Now that [Keeney’s] back, it’s like he never left.”

Keeney’s return also meant that Noland could return to receiver. All he’s done back at his regular position is catch two touchdowns in each of Tualatin’s three playoff games so far. 

Tualatin Head Coach Dom Ferraro said Fortier sets the tone for the offense, but being able to have all his players back where they’re supposed to play has helped open things up. 

“[Fortier’s] tough to defend,” Ferraro said. “You can double team him, but now you leave AJ Noland open on the other side. I think that’s what we were missing in league play. It’s good to be back with those guys.”

Ferraro also praised his team’s resiliency after a bit of a rough start. Already trailing in the second quarter, Keeney threw his second interception of the half when Sherwood linebacker Treyson Eddleman tipped a pass and lunged to make a shoestring grab, and then returned to interception to Tualatin’s 1-yard line. Sherwood ran in a score on the next play. 

Even after two first-half interceptions, Ferrao said he didn’t change up the gameplan. He said the Eddleman interception was one of the best plays he’s seen in more than 20 years of high school football, and the team still trusted Keeney. The junior quarterback said he didn’t let the interceptions linger in his mind.

“It’s all about making the right plays,” Keeney said. “You’re not worried about the stats when you’re in it. You go out there and know what you have to do. I wasn’t worried about throwing another pick or anything like that.”

Keeney’s first interception came on the second play of the game, and Sherwood followed that up by methodically bringing the ball downfield to the goal line. Tualatin’s defense held strong, though, keeping Sherwood to a field goal.

“That was some good confidence,” Tualatin linebacker Calvin Evans said. “They had a good play to get a pick and marched it down. We were able to hold them to a field goal on the first possession. That gave us confidence that we’re able to stop them.”

Sherwood scored that touchdown off Keeney’s second interception to go up 23-14 with 8:23 to go in the first half. From that point on, Sherwood didn’t score again. In fact, 23 points is the least Sherwood scored in a game all season. 

Up next for Tualatin is the state championship against Central Catholic, which earned a trip to the title game with a 12-7 win Friday against West Linn. It’s a rematch of the 2021 state title game, which Tualatin lost, 44-14. 

The rematch will take place at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Hillsboro Stadium. Digital tickets are available at https://www.osaa.org/tickets.