Sun sets on McMinnville football in first round
McMinnville football players quietly filed into their locker room Friday after losing 49-42 to Sunset in the first round of the 6A state playoffs.
Players sat in front of their lockers, silently staring at the ground. After a couple of minutes, McMinnville coach Don Rutschman walked into the room and tried to give a quick talk. He tried to put the season-ending loss into perspective, but there were few words that would have snapped the Grizzlies out of their disappointment. When Rutschman was done, he walked around the locker room and shook every player’s hand.
“It’s tough to leave them and know we’re not practicing next week, because that would be fun to do with this group,” Rutschman said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Senior running back Spencer Payne talked about Rutschman, who took over in July after Jeff Kearin left to take an assistant coaching position at Occidental College.
“We’ve come a long ways,” Payne said. “We found Rutsch. We love him to death. He’s a great coach.”
Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud said it was a good season with Rutschman taking over.
“We had our head coach who we were starting to believe in, just leave on us,” Gubrud said. “Not many teams respond like we did to that. We had great senior leadership.”
McMinnville (5-5), playing in its first home playoff game in seven years, couldn’t quite keep up with the Apollos. It figured to be an even matchup, but Sunset was able to build enough of a lead early to sustain a late comeback by Mac. The Grizzlies fell down 42-21 late in the third quarter but scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to claw back into it.
“You can’t give up, especially in games like this,” said Payne, who rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns. “We just have too much love for the game. Way too much to quit.”
Payne, playing for the first time since early October, kept Mac in it. After Sunset scored in the first quarter, he took a kickoff return 89 yards to the Sunset 1-yard-line, and then punched it in the next play to tie the game.
Payne scored his second touchdown in the third quarter to stop a Sunset run, and he scored back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter to get Mac within one touchdown with 3:57 left in the game.
“I just wanted to play as much as I could,” Payne said. “Senior year, last game, you just want to be out there every play, doing it your hardest.”
Every time Mac inched closer, Sunset would put it justout of reach. The final was when Bruce Jones Jr. rushed for an 11-yard touchdown with 1:30 left in the game, giving Sunset a 14-point lead. Jones rushed for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
After leaving the locker room, Rutschman reflected on his four months as coach in McMinnville.
“There weren’t too many negatives since July 15,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Notes: Gubrud was 24-of-35 passing for 217 yards. … Alex Israel caught eight passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. … Kane Kennedy had 66 receiving yards and also recovered a fumble and scored.