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Panthers eliminated in semis

Panthers eliminated in semis

Peter Mendazona (10) attempts to pass to Peter Mason (26) during the Panthers state semifinal game against Wilsonville in November.

Photo by Lukas Eggen
Peter Mendazona (10) attempts to pass to Peter Mason (26) during the Panthers state semifinal game against Wilsonville in November.



HILLSBORO — With 43 seconds remaining in the first half, it appeared Central was poised to enter halftime tied with No. 2 Wilsonville at 21 after quarterback Peter Mendazona hit AJ Morales for a 13-yard touchdown.

The Wildcats had other ideas.

Wilsonville scored just before the half to go up 28-21 — the first of 21 unanswered points the Wildcats scored — as Wilsonville defeated Central 56-34 in the state semifinals on Saturday.

“They executed more than us, I guess,” senior Marlon Tuipulotu said. “We had a good team this year. We started off slow, but we started coming together.”

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Central receiver/defensive back Jackson Holstad had five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.

The Central offense found success in the first half. Mendazona threw a 25-yard touchdown to Marcos Cedillo and a 13-yard strike to Jackson Holstad, but Wilsonville quarterback Connor Neville had an answer.

Holstad picked off a Neville pass to open the second half and returned it to Wilsonville’s 12-yard line. The Panthers were unable to score and turned the ball over on downs. The Wildcats responded by marching down the field for a touchdown to go up 35-21.

“All of a sudden, they’re up by 14 and you have to change some things,” Central coach Shane Hedrick said. “… They knew we had to pass, and when you have to pass, they can bring some extra guys. They were coming after us.”

Wilsonville extended its lead to as many as 21 in the second half. Neville — a Washington State commit — finished the game with 392 yards and six total touchdowns.

“We tried hard to get pressure on him,” Hedrick said. “They’re dialed in; they know what they want to do; and they do a nice job protecting him. I think our game plan was to get more pressure on him than we were able to.”

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Central coach Shane Hedrick and senior Marlon Tuipulotu embrace after the Panthers’ 56-34 loss to Wilsonville.

The Panthers used a variety of trick plays — with varying degrees of success — from completing a pass to Tuipulotu for a 6-yard gain to an attempted fake punt that ended in a pick six for Wilsonville.

Mendazona threw for 280 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Peter Mason had six catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, but the Wildcats’ offense proved too much for the Panthers.

“Those 50/50 plays were just going their way,” Mason said. “The defense fought hard, but when those 50/50 balls came, it wasn’t our turn. They made some great catches and some great plays.”

Central’s 2016 season was one filled with ups and downs — but was a successful one.

“We had a really good season with a really good group of guys,” Mason said.

The Panthers advanced to the state playoffs despite dealing with a rash of injuries throughout the regular season. Central defeated No. 6 Sandy and No. 14 Redmond in the first two rounds of the state playoffs. The team’s semifinals appearance was the team’s fifth since 2004 — but the Panthers’ first since moving to Class 5A.

Tuipulotu, who will play college football at Washington, was named the Mid-Willamette Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

It wasn’t the finish they envisioned, but Hedrick’s message to his players after the game was clear: This team has nothing to be ashamed of.

“I’m proud of how they’ve grown and matured and come together as a team,” Hedrick said. “I talked to the guys in the locker room and words were not hard to find. They were easy. I’m very proud of these kids, so incredibly proud.”



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