It's over, and it feels great.
That was the sentiment Friday night after the Sunset Apollos football team capped an undefeated 2021 season with a dramatic 38-31 overtime win over state power and formerly undefeated Central Catholic of the Mt. Hood Conference.
Junior running back Caleb Kim plunged-in from the 1-yard line on Sunset's first possession of overtime, then defensive back Nick Molitor deflected a Rams fourth down pass attempt, setting-off a rabid Sunset celebration in the wake of what was truly a fantastic Apollos season.
"No one in this program has ever experienced winning a state championship before, so we've never experienced winning the last game of the season," Sunset head coach Damien Merrick said. "So, competing in this two week stretch of beating the two private schools and finishing with a win like that, I'm not sure it could feel much better or be any more special."
Sunset trailed early after Central Catholic's Ellis Bynum's 59-yard touchdown run gave the Rams a 7-0 lead. But the Apollos answered with a 19-yard Kyle Jaekel to Owen Stark touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7, then ran-off 17 straight points including a 1-yard Kim run, 35-yard Sam Harker field goal, and 35-yard Kim run to take a 24-7 lead.
The Rams cut the lead to 24-13 midway through the third quarter when Bynum again broke loose, this time for an 80-yard score, but Sunset again answered, this time with Stark catching his second touchdown pass of the game when he and Jaekel connected from 48 yards out, giving the Apollos a 31-13 lead to start the fourth quarter.
Despite the more-than-two score advantage, Merrick knew the Rams were far from done.
"We knew they'd make a run, they just have too many darn good athletes," the coach said. "The only question was how big of a run and could we stand up to it."
That run started when Jordan King caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Luke Johnson to cut the lead to 31-20 with 8:10 remaining in the final quarter. Just more than three minutes later, King caught another scoring pass, this one from 40 yards out to trim the lead to 31-28. Then, with just :07 left on the clock, Atticus Sappington was good on a 33-yard field goal attempt, tying the game and sending the two teams to overtime – where of course Sunset prevailed.
"I was very pleased and really impressed with our kids," Merrick said. "They didn't change their mindset or the way they play, they just kept fighting and made plays when they needed to."
Merrick added that his kids were confident entering the game despite the record and reputation Central Catholic brought to the table.
"Other years I may have been concerned with our mindset prior to a game like this, but the leadership with this team is incredible," he said. "They knew they were going against the best team we'd seen all year, and they knew we were going to have are hands full with some of their athletes, but they also had a lot of confidence that they could play with them."
Having said that, and in the wake of a win over one of the state's elite, was the coach a bit sorry that they couldn't continue towards what in a normal year would be a state championship run?
"To be honest, there'll always be that question of what we could've done," Merrick said, "But I have no doubt that we could compete with anybody in the state."
Kim finished with 156 yards on 26 carries.
Jaekel was 12-of-26 for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
In other games:
Mountainside (3-3) defeated Grant 17-7, led by Carson Willner's 108 yards rushing. Andrew Simpson and Landon Sherman had interceptions for the Mavericks in the win. Tigard (2-3) finished on a strong note defeating Clackamas 47-28, led by Hewitt Sullivan's five rushing touchdowns. The Tigers defense also tallied five sacks in the game. Southridge (2-4) ended its 2021 campaign with a 42-20 loss at the hands of visiting Liberty of the Pacific Conference. The Aloha (4-2) Warriors capped their 2021 season with a third consecutive win, the last of which came in a 49-13 victory over crosstown Beaverton (1-5). Tualatin (4-2) fell in its season finale 36-7 to state-power Lake Oswego. It was a sour ending to an otherwise great Timberwolves season. Jesuit's game versus Jefferson was cancelled.
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