It wasn’t the result they wanted, but the 2021 Timberwolves have much to look back on after finishing out a momentous season.
In the Dec. 4 afternoon OSAA 6A-division football state championship, third-seed Tualatin fell to fourth-seed Central Catholic 44-14, after a Rams’ second-half domination to place second in state.
The Wolves and the Rams last met in the second round of the 2018 playoffs where Central Catholic narrowly advanced from a 28-21 win, but with an entirely unique roster. Going into this year’s championship there was no clear favor toward any one team. And, the Rams had yet to face any Three Rivers League challenger besides 29th-seed Oregon City in the first round.
The Wolves were stepping off their second dominating win against West Linn in the semis with Central Catholic taking a key 35-28 win in the Holy War over Jesuit High School.
But this wasn’t Central Catholic’s first go-around in the state finals, and they are, in fact, the defending champs after earning their ring in the 2019 season over Lake Oswego (49-28) and the COVID-19 pandemic forgoing a post-season in the spring of 2021. The Rams were looking to take consecutive titles, something they’ve done before in both the 2013-2014 seasons and much further ago in the 1952-1953 seasons.
The Wolves, on the other hand, had only seen the championship twice since the school first opened in 1991. Their first ended in defeat, 28-14, against Sheldon in 2007, and their latest was in 2010, where they fell 34-13 against Aloha. With so much promise and weeks of preparation, they hoped to finally take that top spot this year.
As would soon make itself clear, that would not be the case.
Only two minutes into the game, and along with some wet and windy conditions, the Wolves sustained a botched snap, with Rams’ linebacker Emar’rion Winston picking up the recovery and rushing 68 yards for the touchdown.
Tualatin didn’t have their chance to answer until five minutes remained in the second half. After numerous penalties and a personal foul on Central Catholic, the Wolves found themselves at 4th and inches just outside the Rams’ 32-yard line.
With Tualatin running back Malik Ross safely returning to play after an injury scare in the first quarter, he took the right side and drove the ball down to the 10-yard line. He scampered the remaining distance on the following play diving over the left-hand corner of the endzone to tie the score 7-7.
Central Catholic wouldn’t allow the tied game for long and completed consecutive scores only nine seconds apart – the first a 13-yard touchdown by Ellis Bynum through four missed tackles, and the second a fumble recovery by Timmy Mitchell off Kellen Hale for 27 yards.
However, a quick slew of plays kept the Wolves in the running through the end of the first half. Ross advanced 36 yards on the kickoff return; wide receiver Cole Prusia threw a 42-yard bullseye to AJ Noland – Tualatin’s furthest connection of the afternoon; and quarterback Jackson Jones found Peter Burke in the endzone from the 13-yard line. A possession that lasted just over 20 seconds and pushed 95 yards from kickoff return.
This would be the final score for the Wolves as through the second half, Central Catholic scored three touchdowns with two PATs and a 42-yard field goal by Zach Grisham to add 23 points to the Rams’ score. This secured the Rams’ sixth state title and Tualatin’s third second-place trophy.
“I mean that’s just how football goes, it’s a momentum game,” Prusia said. “When one thing goes one way, and it keeps building and building and building. I feel like that’s just what they had but I got to give all the credit to them.”
Central Catholic finished their season on a clean sheet going undefeated through 15 games with Tualatin finding a 12-2 record on the season, ever close to that championship title.
“I mean, it’s like being stabbed at heart,” Prusia said. “You work so hard, you prepare for so long, just to see that from the other side of the field. Obviously, I’d love to have a ring. … It, it just hurts.”
“It’s been special, real special,” Burke told Tualatin Life. “I mean we’ve been talking about this since freshman year if not earlier, just about this group of guys that we had. We had the talent, this was the goal, we believed we could get to it, just came up a little short.”
Through the season, one idea was echoed more than any other by Tualatin athletes and coaches – that Timberwolves football had a team dynamic like no other. On the sidelines, on and off the field, and no matter the outcome, these players would take away something special.
“I transferred here just knowing that these guys are guys, like I’d call every single one of them,” Prusia said. “They’re going to have my back for the rest of my life. If I call them at 3 a.m., they’re going to pick up the phone. It’s just a brotherhood like nothing else. I’m so proud of them. I love all my coaches; I love my Tualatin family.”
With the 2021 football season at its end, the team is graduating 20 seniors with many expected to play at the collegiate level. Prusia committed to Princeton University, Ross received offers from Western Oregon and the Air Force Academy, Hale received an offer from the Air Force Academy, kicker Dominic Borges has received offers from the University of Puget Sound and Pacific University and Jones had received an offer from Pacific University, to name a few.
“Obviously, Cole, he is going to Princeton. Malik, I mean he should be playing somewhere big,” Burke said. “I mean all of us are trying to do something. I’m trying to go play somewhere I can. Just trying to get another opportunity because I don’t want this to be my last.”