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Tualatin gets emotional win but loses starting QB; Jesuit 0-4 for first time since 1977: 5 takeaways
By Alex Tam,
Through the first month of the season, No. 3 Tualatin has been on a clear-cut mission to prove it deserves to stay in the conversation among the state’s elite programs.
Coming off a semifinal berth last season and a state title game appearance two years ago, the Timberwolves are hungry to keep this run going.
On Friday, Tualatin looked every bit the part of a legitimate contender, racing to a quick 28-point lead and cruising past No. 7 Jesuit, 42-17, at Jesuit High School.
“Jesuit and Central Catholic, anybody who plays them in Oregon sports knows they’re good at every single sport,” Tualatin senior AJ Noland said. “So, anytime you can come into their house and get a win, and win in pretty dominant fashion, it feels amazing and it’s a credit to the players. It just feels really good.”
Tualatin remained undefeated, improving to 4-0 before Three Rivers League play begins next week at home against Lakeridge. Jesuit dropped to 0-4.
The victory, however, might have come at a cost for the Timberwolves, who lost junior starting quarterback Nolan Keeney to an apparent shoulder injury just before halftime.
Photos by Dan Brood
Here are five takeaways from Friday’s matchup:
What’s the status of Tualatin’s starting quarterback?
Keeney, a transfer from Westview , displayed all the talent and potential in the first half that made the Tualatin coaching staff excited to have him in the fold this season.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior was carving up Jesuit’s defense by leading his team to four touchdowns in its first five drives Friday. He was nearly uncontainable, completing 10 of 13 attempts for 138 yards with touchdown passes to Noland (60 yards) and senior tight end Tyson Hunt (11 yards).
Keeney did it on the ground as well, rushing eight times for 126 yards (15.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns before leaving the game. Tualatin coach Dominic Ferraro said Keeney suffered his injury after he scrambled from the pocket and got tackled to the ground, where he landed on his shoulder.
“We’re waiting to see what he looks like, and hopefully he’ll be back next week,” Ferraro said. “(If not), we’ll have to adjust. We’ll see. We’re just not sure.”
Keeney entered the contest as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state, having passed for 541 yards and four touchdowns with 206 rushing yards through three games.
“I’m disappointed for him,” Noland said. “My thoughts and prayers are with him; he’s a big part of our team. … Playing like him, it’ll be tough to cover his role.”
Next man up at quarterback
Noland replaced Keeney for the final two minutes of the first half and played most of the second half at quarterback. He admirably filled in while the game was in hand, completing 3 of 6 attempts for 39 yards and adding two carries for 11 yards.
Ferraro is confident in the abilities of Noland , who served as the team’s backup quarterback last season.
“He knows our offense just as well as anybody,” Ferraro said. “AJ is the type of guy who knows his position and he knows everybody else’s position. He did just fine tonight. There were a couple runs that we thought he should’ve pulled and kept the ball, but it was all right. He did a good job and knew exactly what we needed.”
Noland is no stranger to running the show as the signal-caller, having played the position in youth football from sixth to eighth grade. After the game, he addressed his teammates in the postgame huddle with a message of hoping they can trust him moving forward.
“I’m going to do my best and hopefully Nolan can come back as soon as possible,” Noland said. “We’re hoping for the best but until then, I need my guys to trust me because I trust them and we’ve got to build that chemistry back.”
Noland said he received some reps in practice this past week, but the biggest adjustment for him was the speed of a real-time game at quarterback as “it moves a little fast, for sure.”
“I’m just going to try to make plays and live with the mistakes,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got weapons all across the board, so we’re still a team to be reckoned with — with or without Nolan.”
A significant win for Tualatin, Ferraro
It had been 13 years since the Timberwolves last defeated the storied Jesuit program.
In 2010, they outlasted the Crusaders, 26-22, in the Class 6A state semifinals. Since then, Tualatin had lost its past two meetings, including a 42-28 loss in the state quarterfinals in 2019 and a season-opening 48-24 defeat in 2016.
Noland recalls the memories of being in the stands for the pressure-packed 2019 contest.
“They fought their butts off, so it’s good to come back,” he said. “It’s only a regular-season game, but at the end of the day, beating Jesuit is beating Jesuit.”
The victory was also a little emotional for Ferraro, who graduated from Jesuit High School in 1995 and played football for longtime coach Ken Potter.
“It’s a great school,” Ferraro said. “I had four great years here and just coming back, this is my 19th, 20th year coaching and I spent a lot of my time in the Metro League going against these guys (with Sunset). It’s hard to beat them. They’re physical, they’re tough, and they’ve got excellent players. They’ve got excellent coaches. They’re hard to beat and when you do, it feels good.
“I’m actually pretty emotional right now — like, I can feel it. I’m really proud of our kids — they played really hard. Coming into the game, we’re looking at their film and we’re going, ‘They’re 0-3 but they’re not an 0-3 football team.’ They’re still very good.”
Where do the Timberwolves stand in the state?
While most of the attention is deservedly on No. 1 Central Catholic and defending state champion and No. 2 West Linn, Tualatin believes it’s right there.
Behind a big-play defense that forced nine total turnovers over the previous two games, the Timberwolves added another takeaway with a fumble recovery Friday.
Tualatin’s defense can bring pressure in a variety of ways, as senior Jayden Fortier, senior Thomas Ngure and junior Calvin Evans each recorded a sack.
Fortier also was a force on offense, bruising his way to 46 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter on which he barreled his way through the pack, knocking down several Jesuit defenders on the way to the end zone.
Senior running back Carson Mullins added 92 yards on 10 carries.
“Of course, we have the utmost confidence in ourselves,” said Noland, who started the game at wide receiver and had six catches for 105 yards — all in the first quarter.
With a 4-0 record and a No. 3 ranking in the state, Ferraro said he’s fine still flying under the radar.
“I kind of like to be an underdog, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ll take the underdog role.”
Jesuit ‘still confident’ despite 0-4 start
These are not ordinary times for the Crusaders.
With a program that has high expectations every season, Jesuit is still seeking its first win of 2023, falling to 0-4 for the first time since 1977.
On the other hand, no team has played a tougher schedule than the Crusaders. They’ve lost to the top three ranked teams in the state, No. 1 Central Catholic, No. 2 West Linn and No. 3 Tualatin. They dropped the season opener to Washington state powerhouse Skyview.
Jesuit senior Jace Burton believes the tough schedule has been eye-opening for everyone, especially the first-year varsity players.
“I think Coach Potter wanted to show us these good teams early,” Burton said. “We’re a young team; a lot of our players haven’t played varsity snaps this year. We’re getting our first taste of who’s really at the top. Now we move on to Metro (League) and hopefully we can go out there and take control.”
Junior quarterback Trey Cleeland was a bright spot, completing 11 of 19 attempts for 112 yards and two touchdowns — one each to Burton and senior running back Julius Christensen. Cleeland also led the team in rushing with 81 yards on four carries.
Burton added two catches for 56 yards, and senior Matt Eilers had six receptions for 35 yards.
Despite its struggles, don’t expect Jesuit to lay down anytime soon, with Burton saying the team is “definitely still confident.”
“We don’t want to overlook anybody,” he said. “We’ve had the hardest schedule in the state. We played the top teams in Oregon and Washington. Going into Metro, it’s time to put ours down and focus and win that Metro League championship.”
Jesuit opens Metro League play at Aloha (0-4) next Thursday.
Tualatin 42, Jesuit 17
Tualatin - 21 - 7 - 7 - 7 — 42
Jesuit - 0 - 7 - 3 - 7 — 17
9:45 T - Nolan Keeney 25 run (Calvin Evans PAT)
3:03 T - Keeney 30 run (Evans PAT)
:32 T - AJ Noland 60 pass from Keeney (Evans PAT)
6:19 T - Tyson Hunt 11 pass from Keeney (Evans PAT)
3:45 J - Julius Christensen 10 pass from Trey Cleeland (Kadyn Butcher PAT)