'A long time coming'
For the perennial powerhouses of Oregon football, home playoff games are yearly occurrences. Playing at home is expected. One doesn’t need to look further than Sheldon and Jesuit, two programs that have combined to win five state championships since 2002 and host 40 playoff games.
The McMinnville football program plays at 7 p.m. tonight at Wortman Stadium vs. Sunset in the first round of the 6A state playoffs. It’s the first time the Grizzlies have hosted a playoff game since 2005, and it is just the fourth home game in the playoffs since 2001.
By comparison, both Jesuit and Sheldon had three home playoff games in 2011, and each has played at home at least once since 2002 in the state tournament.
“It’ll be great to play in McMinnville,” Grizzlies coach Don Rutschman said.
Rutschman said the allure of home playoff games has worn off on him, but for his players — especially the seniors — tonight’s game is monumental. Two seasons ago, the Grizzlies were 2-8 and the year before that Mac won one game.
“They’ve never had a home playoff game,” Rutschman said. “They’ve had very few playoff games. It’s been a hard trek for these seniors that last three years.
“This has been a long time coming.”
One of the many things a program needs to change in order to become successful is a losing mentality. McMinnville has had marginal success in the playoffs in the past decade, but a core group of players from the Class of 2013 have helped change things around. Senior lineman Devin Draper said five seniors have played varsity since their sophomore years. Draper, Spencer Payne, Kane Kennedy, Alex Israel and Kurtis Cooper have been together for years and have become a confident group of leaders for Mac.
“We’ve been used to winning,” Israel said. “(The seniors a few years ago) weren’t used to winning. Last year and this year, the guys have had a winning mentality.”
This year’s senior class was 5-3 on the freshman team, and the junior class was 8-1 in freshman football. That has translated into decent success at the varsity level, where the Grizzlies are 10-9 the past two seasons with two playoff appearances.
A few players have credited a better understanding of the offense for some of the success, but Draper said players also matured — including himself.
“My sophomore year, I was this kid that was running around and didn’t like listening to the coaches,” he said. “I used to be the clown of the team, now I’m serious.
“This year, all the seniors realized we have something special. Everyone looked at that and said, ‘Well, we need to practice harder.’ ”
Rutschman — always the coach thinking about what could have been — is proud of this year’s team, but he said if the Grizzlies want continued success, the program needs to keep players around. Players leaving because of injuries, grades and moving away are all expected, but Rutschman said there should be more seniors.
In 2009, the freshman team had 34 players. This year’s seniors have 14 players who were on that freshman roster.
“Where are those (other) kids?” Rutschman asked. “Where are their buddies at?”
A tough opponent
Sunset (5-4) won’t be an easy team for the Grizzlies to beat. Mac earned a home playoff game as the No. 15-ranked team in the state, and the Apollos are ranked No. 18. Sunset was the fourth-place team in the Metro League, but like the Pacific Conference, the top teams in the Metro are some of the best programs in the state.
“I call (the Metro League) the SEC of the state of Oregon,” Rutschman said.
The Metro has three teams ranked in the top six by the OSAA. Southridge won the league, Jesuit was second and Aloha was third. The Apollos lost to all three, but held Southridge to 10 points and Aloha to 13.
“Yardage is going to be tough to come by,” Rutschman said. “We’re going to have to be a pretty patient. They make you go 14 plays to score.”
Rutschman said some players have gotten healthy in the last two weeks, though not everyone will be 100 percent tonight. The good news is Spencer Payne, who had an appendectomy almost a month ago, will play.
With Mac’s most dangerous offensive weapon on the field again and the support of the home crowd, tonight will be a night to remember, Giovanni Galvez said. All the players are looking forward to keeping the season going.
“It means a lot. It means a lot to the guys,” he said. “It means everything to get a chance to play under the lights at Wortman Stadium and try and get to round two.”
Notes: Mac’s last home playoff game was in 2005 vs. Barlow, a 47-7 loss. The Grizzlies played Clackamas at home in 2002 and lost 20-13. They also hosted a playoff game in 2001 vs. Gresham and lost 27-3. ... McMinnville played in the playoffs last season, a 67-34 loss at Jesuit in the first round.