Tualatin High School’s varsity football team, after facing an unlikely opponent, came away with their first win of the season under the Friday Night Lights.
Tualatin originally scheduled their second game at Lake Oswego, a championship finalist last year, but switched opponents after several Lake Oswego athletes contracted COVID-19 from an out-of-school gathering. So, Tualatin continued at home against the Southwest Conference member, North Medford, which made the four-hour trek from Southern Oregon.
This game would be vastly different than the previous – no first-game jitters, a bit more practice and two returning key players for the Timberwolves: wide receiver Peter Burke and running back Malik Ross. Both are dual-sport athletes and simultaneously play on the varsity men’s basketball team.
“They had some basketball commitments and we’re sharing athletes,” Head Coach Dan Lever said. “I’m about providing opportunities, and we’re in an interesting situation. So, I’m not going to deny kids opportunities.”
Also among the differences, athletes’ family members were in attendance, and with a crowd came the festivities. Tualatin’s sports announcer returned, as well as music over the loudspeakers between plays.
So, with everyone settled in, the game began. But points weren’t to be scored until late into the first quarter.
The clock struck 3:16, and the Black Tornadoes held possession. The Wolves managed to keep the offense on their 15-yard-line until a fourth down and one yard to go. North Medford opted to run, hoping for at least a one-yard-carry. To their success, the gamble paid off. On the following play, from the 20-yard-line, North Medford threw long for a 45-yard completed pass and eventual touchdown, resulting in their initial seven-point lead.
In response, Tualatin launched an identical strategy only 16 seconds later. On the first play of their possession from the 29-yard-line, Tualatin quarterback Jackson Jones launched a 50-yard pass to junior Cole Prusia, who outran two North Medford linebackers for the score to tie the teams at the end of the quarter.
These opponents kept each other in check. Dawning quarter two, Prusia connected with Jones for a 20-yard score. Three minutes later, North Medford, in another mirror play, tied the game once again at 14 – 14 with a 20-yard touchdown pass. This back and forth continued.
Starting on the 28-yard-line, Tualatin junior Kevin Hale took a pass from Jones and booked it through a bombardment of North Medford athletes. Despite a face-mask penalty and two attempted tackles, Hale pushed his way out and ran for 40 yards. With the penalty pushing them forward another few yards, Ross received the next hand-off and landed himself over the line for a 21 – 14 lead.
This, once again, was only temporary. With just 14 seconds remaining in the half and half a yard to go, the Black Tornadoes gained another seven points.
Truly, this seemed like anyone’s game, but in the second half, the Wolves finally sent North Medford right back to Southern Oregon defeated.
Hale and Burke both scored touchdowns in the third quarter with Burke’s coming on a 54-yard carry.
Down by 14 going into the final quarter, North Medford shortened the gap to seven, but with 3:16 remaining, Prusia’s third touchdown of the game provided the final margin in a 41 – 28 Timberwolves win. This improved Tualatin’s record to 1-1 season on the season, while North Medford’s fell to 1-1.
The game contrasted with their season opener, when the Wolves lost to West Linn 37 – 6. In a week’s span, they turned themselves around.
“Just cleaning stuff up, getting rid of the first game jitters,” Lever said. “We haven’t had a jamboree or anything to polish things up for, so really just settling down, calming down and just getting back to some of the things we do.”
Statistically, Jones led the way, completing 65 percent of his passes for 360 yards. Prusia, meanwhile, ran for 169 yards with three of Tualatin’s five touchdowns.
Despite the shortened season, the team is still grateful for the chance to play.
“We’re just so happy to be out here playing football,” Lever said. “And I can’t look at one player or one person and say that was the difference, it was a really good team win on short prep time.”