McMinnville’s first home playoff game in seven years didn’t end favorably for the Grizzlies, but be darned if it wasn’t entertaining.
Sunset (6-5) defeated McMinnville 49-42 Friday at Wortman Stadium in a battle between two evenly matched teams in the first round of the 6A state playoffs. The Apollos and McMinnville (5-5) combined for 970 yards of offense and 13 touchdowns Friday, but Sunset had just enough answers on defense to hang on.
“A couple players here and there were the difference,” said senior running back Spencer Payne, who rushed for 151 yards and scored four touchdowns.
The two biggest plays happened at the ends of each half. McMinnville put together a 12-play drive in the second quarter that ate up 4 minutes, 14 seconds of clock, but it ended in the end zone when quarterback Gage Gubrud’s pass was intercepted by Trevor Caldwell.
Sunset took a 21-14 lead into halftime.
“That was big,” said Gubrud, who threw for 217 yards and completed 24-of-35 passes.
The Apollos had the ball first to start the second half, and they extended their lead to 28-14 on a 14-yard run by Bruce Jones Jr. with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
McMinnville answered with a touchdown by Payne with 6:54 left in the third quarter, but Sunset tacked on two more scores to take a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies put together an 11-play, 61-yard scoring drive to start the fourth quarter. The drive ended with a Payne 1-yard touchdown run with 9:40 left in the game that cut Sunset’s lead to 42-28.
Then came the stop that the Grizzlies desperately needed. Alex Israel had intercepted Sunset quarterback Willy Pflug in the second quarter, but the Apollos had scored on four straight possession before the Grizzlies were able to force a punt with 8:32 left in the game.
“We had troubles stopping them on defense,” Gubrud said. “A couple of mistakes on offense are what got us into that situation in the third quarter.”
Mac methodically marched down the field again, this time scoring after a 14-play drive that ate up 4:35 of the clock. Payne scored on a two-yard run with 3:57 left in the fourth quarter, cutting Sunset’s lead to 42-35. With three timeouts, Mac coach Don Rutschman decided to be safe. The Grizzlies quick-kicked the kickoff, trying to catch the Apollos off guard, and Sunset recovered the squib kick at their own 43.
The Grizzlies needed another stop to have a chance, but like he had all game, Jones gashed the defense, and he scored on an 11-yard run with 1:30 left in the game, moving Sunset’s lead back to 14 points at 49-35.
“They’re a good football team,” Gubrud said. “You have to give them credit for scoring.”
Still, the Grizzlies had just the slightest glimmers of a chance, and they seized it. Gubrud led them down the field in 1:03, completing five straight passes for 43 yards on the drive. He hit senior receiver Alex Israel for a 5-yard score with 27 seconds left, and Jacob Bannister’s PAT cut Sunset’s lead once again, this time to 49-42.
Mac had to try and onside kick, but Bannister’s attempt never bounced up in the air and instead continued into the second line of Sunset players, and the Apollos recovered.
In the final seven minutes of the game, Gubrud went 9-for-9 and passed for 96 yards. He completed passes to eight different receivers during the game. Israel caught eight passes for 86 yards, and senior Kane Kennedy caught seven passes for 66 yards.
“It was great seeing our team not quit,” Kennedy said.
Payne, who was playing for the first time since having an appendectomy a month ago, rarely left the field. He played defense and special teams along with his running back duties. He said even after Mac fell behind 21 points, there was never a moment that his teammates felt they couldn’t come back.
“I felt we could explode for big plays anytime,” Payne said. “We were never out of it.”
“They never gave up all year, regardless of the score,” Rutschman said. “We tell them, don’t let the scoreboard dictate how you play. I thought they laid it out on the turf.”
The Grizzlies rushed for 227 yards and totaled 444 yards of offense. Sunset featured a balanced attack, rushing for 260 yards and passing for 266 for a combined 526 yards of offense.
Jones rushed for 239 yards and scored three touchdowns. Pflug was 22-of-29 for 266 yards and four touchdowns. Caldwell was Sunset’s leading receiver with 99 yards and a touchdown. Jeff Bieber caught five passes for 80 yards and had two touchdowns.
Payne scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:07 in the first quarter to tie the game 7-7 after Pflug hit Bieber for a touchdown. Pflug then threw a 22-yard touchdown to Caldwell in the first quarter.
Mac tied the score at 14 after the first quarter on a fumble recover for a touchdown by Kennedy. Gubrud rushed up the middle but fumbled the ball forward, and Kennedy picked it up and ran eight yards in for the touchdown.
McMinnville did not score in the second quarter. Sunset scored with 4:35 left in the half on a 23-yard pass from Pflug to Bieber.
Bannister was 6-for-6 on PATs. Sunset kicker Drew Wilson was 7-for-7.
The Apollos play next week in the second round at No. 1-seeded Central Catholic.