The sun had just set on an early-March Friday night. Around this time of year, one would expect the basketball season to be coming to a close, but no, the Friday Night Lights were up and the Tualatin High School football field prepped.
The stands were curiously empty, and the opposition lined one half of the sidelines. In the eerily quiet night and beyond the darkness remained a team filled with hopefulness and a sense of returned normalcy. Tualatin emerged through the inflatable Tualatin Timberwolf and began their 2020-2021 season anew – this first matchup against a powerhouse school, the West Linn Lions.
Last year, the Wolves held their own against the Three Rivers League (TRL), taking second in league behind rival Tigard. They went through the playoffs and into the quarterfinals where they fell to Jesuit (42 – 28), achieved an overall record of 9-3 and ranked seventh in state.
This year will be different, and for more than one reason. The team only has six season games on the schedule, finishing in just over a month as compared to a typical nine-game regular season. This team is also relatively young. After last year’s season, Tualatin graduated seven first-team all-league players.
“We’ve got a really young team,” Tualatin Varsity Head Coach Dan Lever told Tualatin Life, “there’s quite a few sophomores that are seeing significant playing time or even starting.”
To make matters a bit more dicey, West Linn holds one of the state’s top running backs, senior Gavin Haines (21 touchdowns in 2019), and the Lions had taken down Tualatin in every season matchup since 2005 – last year taking the win 34 – 20.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, they’d have to wait on that victory another year.
At the half, the Lions led 17 – 0. The Wolves defense remained strong, but a few key 30+ yard passes and runs from West Linn kept them in the spotlight.
Despite the lack of points, Tualatin ran into the second half animated and ready. Still, the half played out similarly until the last few minutes.
With 3:18 to go and the Lions now leading 37 – 0, Tualatin junior Scott Wright brought the team to the 4-yard-line. It was now or never.
Wright, receiving the third down hand-off with 2:15 remaining, charged ahead and reached out ever so far to the 1-yard-line. With one to go and behind a pile of bodies, senior Casey Raz broke through on the next play and secured Tualatin’s first points of the season.
From there, the game shortly ended 37 – 6. A tough loss for sure, but to the team this game meant much more than a battle between schools.
“Today was about a lot more than West Linn versus Tualatin,” Lever said in his post-game speech. “I know that I’m never going to ask you to have a setback or a loss where you feel really good about it, because if you’re a true competitor it hurts. … But you know what? We came out here, and we played football and we restored normalcy for everybody. I feel a little bit better about our situation, don’t you?”
As practices began Feb. 12, 21 days before the season opener, preparation was limited, and this first game seemed troubled from the start.
“We missed a lot of time with the kids,” Lever said. “In terms of football, there’s a lot we knew we needed to be better at going into this game. West Linn was going to be one of the best teams in the state, no question. So, you know, we’re going to get better with more time with the kids.”