TUALATIN -- If Tualatin's football team is going to enjoy anything resembling the success it had last year, when it was the 6A runner-up, its handful of returning players must show the way.
That's exactly what happened Friday night in the season opener as senior quarterback Jack Wagner threw three touchdown passes – two to senior tight end Richie Anderson – and the No. 4 Timberwolves carved out a 19-12 home win over Summit, ranked third in 5A.
The Idaho-bound Wagner, who had two fill-in starts at quarterback last season and was a key player at defensive back, completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and three scores with one interception. The Colorado State-bound Anderson had seven catches for 115 yards and two scores and was his usual disruptive self on the defensive line.
Their performance helped give first-year Tualatin coach Dominic Ferraro a win in his debut.
“Those guys, they're just studs,” Ferraro said. “Both of them kind of have the 'it' factor. They've got that experience. There's a bunch of guys that went through the grind last year. … They're battle-tested, so we're going to lean on them.”
The chemistry between Wagner and Anderson was clear. They connected for a 26-yard touchdown pass to make it 13-6 early in the second quarter and struck for a 24-yard score to give Tualatin a 19-12 cushion early in the fourth quarter.
“He's been my quarterback for like eight years now,” Anderson said. “In my eyes, Jack's unstoppable. First game, he threw a pick, but he came back and threw two touchdowns. He took a lot of shots and he kept getting up. He's a dawg.”
Summit, which dropped from 6A to 5A this season, was looking for payback for a 42-13 quarterfinal loss to the Timberwolves last year. And with 18 starters back, the Storm liked its chances.
But Summit could not sustain drives against a swarming Tualatin defense led by Anderson and senior linebacker Will Wilson. The Storm managed just 180 yards, 59 in the second half.
“Hats off to them. They're a really good team and had a really good game plan coming in,” said Summit senior quarterback Hogan Carmichael, a third-year starter. “Offensively for us, they made it hard for us.”
For most of the night, Summit's defense also made it hard for Tualatin. The Storm hounded Wagner, recording three sacks, two by senior Spencer Elliott. Senior Chip Allers was a force at defensive end. And senior Matthew Guthrie had an interception.
“We learned that we can play with anybody in the state,” Carmichael said. “We're a 5A school, this was supposed to be a top-three team in 6A, and we were right there with them the whole game.”
The Storm earned Wagner's respect.
“I expect them to win it all,” Wagner said. “I think they're going to go all the way. They returned all their guys from last year, so I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Tualatin never trailed. The Timberwolves drove 78 yards on the game's first series to lead 7-0 on a 15-yard swing pass from Wagner to senior running back Luke Ash. Summit made it 7-6 midway through the first quarter on a one-yard run by Allers, set up by senior Hank Brundage's fumble recovery at the Tualatin 17-yard line.
Following the first Wagner-to-Anderson touchdown, Summit closed to within 13-12 with 2:39 left in the first half on an 11-yard scoring pass from Carmichael to senior Ethan Carlson. But Ash blocked the extra-point attempt to keep Tualatin ahead.
After a scoreless third quarter, Tualatin drove 80 yards to lead 19-12 on the second Wagner-to-Anderson touchdown. The score was set up by an 18-yard pass from Wagner to junior Jayden Fortier and a 23-yard run by junior AJ Noland.
Trailing by seven points, Summit was unable to mount a serious threat in its last two possessions. Tualatin ran out the last 5:27 to seal the victory.
The Timberwolves are working on the kinks on Ferraro's up-tempo “Ricky Bobby” offense, which he honed as the offensive coordinator at Sunset before going 4-5 as the head coach at Forest Grove last season. He replaced Dan Lever, who left Tualatin to be the coach at reigning 5A champion Silverton.
“I wasn't sure at first, but I love it,” Anderson said of the offense. “It's not just that I get passes, everyone gets passes. We have Jack running, we have Luke running. It's everywhere.”
Tualatin finished with 365 yards, 112 on the ground. Ash -- a transfer from Clackamas, where he ran for 1,150 yards last season – rushed for 49 yards on 17 carries. Noland ran for 47 yards on three sweeps and caught four passes for 55 yards.
Noland, who moved from wideout to slot, is enjoying his role in the new offense.
“Oh man, I love it,” Noland said. “Ferraro's a great coach. We're not as up-tempo as we will be at the end of the year, I'm guessing, because we're getting into things. We haven't unlocked the full playbook.”
Carmichael completed 13 of 27 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown with one interception, a deflected pass that went to Tualatin senior Naasei Lynn. Senior Charlie Ozolin had five catches for 72 yards and Carlson caught four passes for 36 yards and one score.