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Nolan Keeney fits right in after joining tight-knit Tualatin squad: ‘We built a brotherhood’

“This whole move and transfer was worth it”
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Going into Friday’s Class 6A state championship game, the Tualatin football team seems to have a lot going for it

Among the biggest assets the Timberwolves have are the chemistry and brotherhood the team has formed. 

That makes sense. After all, many players on the squad have been teammates for a long, long time — going back to their Tualatin youth football days. Many were part of the Tualatin High School program that reached the 2021 state championship game, where the Timberwolves fell 44-14 to Central Catholic. They were there when last year’s Tualatin team fell to Sheldon in a Class 6A state playoff semifinal contest.

This year, the Timberwolves are on the verge of completing a magical run. On Nov. 17, they defeated previously unbeaten Sherwood 42-23 in a state semifinal at Hillsboro Stadium. That win puts Tualatin in Friday’s state title tilt, where they’ll face Central Catholic at 12:30 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium

While the Timberwolves will field a team made up mostly of longtime Tualatin teammates, there is one new piece to the puzzle — a very important piece.

The Timberwolves will be starting junior Nolan Keeney, a newcomer to the Tualatin program, at quarterback in the championship contest.

Keeney played at Westview last year, helping the Wildcats win the inaugural Columbia Cup title. Westview ran a heavily-based run-oriented offense behind standout running back Jordan Fisher. In the Columbia Cup championship game, a 51-22 Westview win over North Salem, Keeney threw just four passes while Fisher rushed for 417 yards.

Things would be different at Tualatin. 

With the up-tempo Timberwolves, Keeney had big shoes to fill, replacing 2023 graduate Jack Wagner, who is now playing at the University of Idaho.

What possibly could have been a troublesome situation turned out to be a blessing — right from the very start.

“Honestly, since Day 1, he’s come in and adjusted to us,” Tualatin senior tight end/defensive lineman Tyson Hunt said of Keeney after the Timberwolves’ semifinal win over the Bowmen. “At first, he didn’t talk too much, but by maybe the end of the first week, he was one of us.”

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And nothing made the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Keeney happier than that.

“There’s no other feeling like it,” Keeney said with a smile. “I came in and they really accepted me. We built a brotherhood. We built bonds. We built chemistry over the summer. I can’t express how much this means to me right now.”

The Tualatin team knew that with the strong-armed Keeney at quarterback, it could be looking at a special season.

“When Nolan came in, we told him that we believe in him and that we can have a far run with him,” Tualatin senior lineman Reid Dobash said.

It looks like Dobash was right.

With the dual-threat Keeney at quarterback, Tualatin got off to a spectacular start to the season, beating defending Class 5A state champion Summit, Washington power Lincoln and Wilsonville, which will be playing in Friday’s Class 5A title game.

In the Timberwolves’ fourth game of the season, a nonleague contest at Jesuit, Keeney helped Tualatin jump out to a 28-7 halftime lead, completing 10 of 13 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 126 yards and two scores on eight carries.

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But late in the second quarter of that contest, Keeney and the Timberwolves received a bad break — literally — when the quarterback suffered a broken collarbone.

The injury kept Keeney out of Tualatin’s final five games of the regular season. He did suit up for the regular-season finale at Tigard, but he didn’t play in that contest.

Keeney made his return in the Timberwolves’ postseason opener with Roosevelt. In that game, a 49-3 home win, Keeney completed 14 of 17 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns.

In the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, it was more of the same as Keeney completed 15 of 23 passes for 272 yards and five touchdowns in a 47-14 win over Nelson.

In the semifinals, Keeney helped the Timberwolves rally from a 23-14 second-quarter deficit to get the 42-23 victory over Sherwood.

“We came out and had a bit of a rough start, but it’s all about bouncing back,” Keeney said of the win. “That’s what everyone loves about football. We kept battling. We kept going. We made adjustments and we kept going.”

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Keeney completed 11 of 15 passes for a whopping 408 yards and six touchdowns. He had a connection with senior tight end Jayden Fortier, who had six catches for 324 yards and four scores.

Fortier marveled not only at Keeney’s performance in the semifinal win and his season as a whole, but also in how Keeney has fit in with the tight-knit Tualatin team. 

“He’s just outstanding. If he went anywhere, he could bond with anybody,” Fortier said. “He’s a super cool dude, and he’s one of my best friends. I love him. We have that connection off the field, as well. So, when we come out here throwing, it makes it easy. It’s like pitch and catch.”

“He adjusted to the group so fast,” Hunt said. “We love him to death. He’s one of the guys.”

Keeney, as one of the guys, got a big smile as he stood on the Hillsboro Stadium turf, talking about when it sank in that the team’s lofty goals are within reach and he was going to the state championship game with his Tualatin teammates.

“It’s always a thought, but you never actually know until you’re actually there — until you’re in the game that can send you there. There’s no other feeling like it,” Keeney said. “It hit me a couple of minutes ago. I was hugging my mom (Aimee Keeney), and I just finally realized it — this whole move and transfer was worth it. It’s been so much fun. We really built a brotherhood.” 


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