Not enough depth, too many injuries and a tough Sunset team proved to be too much for Sprague to overcome Friday as the Olys fell 49-24 in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
Sprague, which lost three defensive starters in the last few weeks and forced coach Jay Minyard to start five sophomores on the defensive side of the ball, saw Sunset score 28 straight points in the second half as the Apollos (7-3) pulled away for the win.
“I think depth became an issue,” Minyard said. “I felt like we run down a little bit in the second half, but I was extremely proud of our effort. I really do think we played some of our best football that we’ve played this year.”
What the final score doesn’t tell was how well the Olys played in the first half. Sprague (6-4) limited Sunset in not only the time it had the ball, but held the Apollos offense to a single touchdown, coming with 1:28 left in the half. To go along with an 80-yard kickoff return by Jacob Leonard, the Apollos were down 17-14 at halftime. The three-point Sprague lead, however, could have been more. The Olys had a drive stall at the Sunset 15 yard line midway through the first quarter before having to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Alexander Boyle early in the second quarter. The Olys also had another drive end at the Sunset 34 yard line due to a fumble. Still, a 9-yard touchdown reception by sophomore Nick Brotton from sophomore quarterback Justin Culpepper and an 11-yard touchdown reception by Anthony Nunn from Culpepper had the Olys nursing a three-point halftime lead.
“We should have been up a lot more,” said Sprague senior lineman Levi Long.
Minyard said he was happy with how his team played in the first half.
“I thought our effort in the first half was awesome, and we knew that we had kind of squandered away a couple of opportunities,” he said. “But even with that, we were still up 17-14.”
Both teams traded scores early in the third quarter. After Sprague running back Matt Kleinman scored on a 5-yard run with 5:20 to play in the third to give the Olys a 24-21 lead, it signaled the last time the Sprague would score this season. Following a 28-yard touchdown run by Sunset’s Jacob Speirs, Apollos senior Ryan Hutchins intercepted a pass by Culpepper and ran it in for the score. The play proved to be crucial as the Olys went from holding a three-point lead to trailing by 10 points in just 3:05.
Hutchins later hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Willy Pflug before Speirs added an 11-yard touchdown run midway through the final quarter for the Apollos.
“They had a lot of depth, I can tell you that,” said Sprague junior running back Anthony Nunn. “We didn’t have a lot of depth, but we played well well. I thought we played hard and didn’t give up, though. The guys who were in, though, we just didn’t have much depth and it was one of those things where they had to just toughen up and play through it.”
Long, who verbally committed to Eastern Washington University earlier this season, said it was difficult to see underclassmen with little experience step in to key roles as the season progressed.
“We came together as a team,” he said. “I mean, it’s hard to be a sophomore and to step up and say, ‘Hey, this is my spot now.’ You know, Kyle Rosenau, who’s a sophomore, played freshman ball last year, but didn’t come up for playoffs last year. This year, though, he’s starting on varsity. That’s a big step.”
With Sprague’s season now complete, Minyard said he was happy with how well the Olys persevered through such a trying season.
“We knew we were going to very young in spots and that we were going to have to stay healthy, which didn’t happen,” he said. “But all things considered, I thought it was a good year. The bottom line is that we want to get to the playoffs every year and not only did we do that, but we got to host a playoff game and finish in the top-16. So for us being young and not having that depth and all of the things we went through, I’m pretty proud of the kids. These kids can hold their heads up high and feel good about all they accomplished this year.”