PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Late Friday night, when the fans at Pioneer Stadium are long gone, Oregon City head coach Dustin Janz and his coaching staff will head to 9th street, shuffle into the town’s McMenamins and grab some dinner, something they typically do to end a fall Friday.
Usually, they’ll relive the game, talk about it, “and kind of get after it,” Janz said.
But not on this Friday — not after a first-round playoff game against Sunset. Instead, the coaches will wait for the moment to pass over — when the anxiety and stress finally starts to dissipate — so they can try and find the answer to a question no one who saw that game could immediately answer after it ended: what in the name of Oregon high school football just happened?
“I knew it had the potential to be a shootout type style of game, and it turned out to be,” said Janz, who admitted the game took years off his life. “I just never imagined it would be that type of shootout.”
Shootout doesn’t even begin to do Friday’s first-round playoff game justice.
In a final score reminiscent of a high-scoring basketball game, No. 15 Oregon City and No. 18 Sunset battled, going back-and-forth before the Pioneers eventually prevailed, beating Sunset 75-72.
Oregon City will face off against Clackamas in the second round. It’ll be the second time the two teams faced in the last 3 weeks. Clackamas won 57-27 on Oct. 20.
The scoring barrage started early. Sunset quarterback Coleman Newsom, 3 plays into the first drive, threw a 31-yard touchdown to Nick Cizik for the game’s first score. It would be a trend: Newsom and Cizik linked up for 5 touchdowns on the night, all of which game in the first half. Cizik also had a pick-six touchdown early on in the second half.
Oregon City was quick to answer. Quarterback Austin Bonner found 6-foot-3 Trevor Sheldon on a 61-yard pass to the one-yard line, setting up a touchdown run from Zakayas Dennis-Lee. The back-and-forth had begun, and it never stopped.
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Sunset had 4 leads in this game: the first score of the game, the second to last score of the first half, a third-quarter advantage and a late 4th quarter lead. The Pioneers, though, were never fazed, responding quickly every time.
With 20 seconds remaining in the first half, after Sunset took a 36-31 lead on another Newsom to Cizik pass, the Pioneers got creative. On the last play of the half, Bonner threw a hook to Teron Bradford, who then pitched it to Dennis-Lee. Dennis-Lee, who had 5 touchdowns on the night, put on the jets, juked past a Sunset defender and took it to the house for a 70-yard score.
“When things went bad, we kept fighting, we kept pushing, we kept grinding and we kept answering,” Janz said. “I’m really proud of our guys for that.”
Some on hand may have wondered if the halftime break would slow down the two teams’ impressive display of scoring. Oregon City answered that right away. Dennis-Lee scored his final touchdown of the night to give Oregon City a 49-38 lead.
But in a game where two teams eclipsed 70 points, it’s worth noting the Apollos also never gave up. Cizik had a interception for a touchdown and then an Oregon City fumbled resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Nathan Kimball to give Sunset the lead.
Fast-forward to the 4th quarter and the Apollos took their final lead of the game on a pass from Newsom to Joel Bieber with 8:34 left. Then, for the final time, the Pioneers answered, turning to one of their most important plays in the most important time of their season.
Dennis-Lee called the moment ironic. On the kickoff before the kickoff that changed the game, Dennis-Lee looked over and talked to his other return man, Teron Bradford. Bradford, according to Dennis-Lee, was mad. All game, like many teams had done all season, Sunset decided to kick the ball on the ground, rather than send it deep and give Bradford a chance to show his college-bound speed.
But in the 4th quarter, the Apollos finally caved, sending one in the air and into the waiting arms of Bradford.
“I knew when I touched it, I was going to the house,” Bradford said.
And that he did, taking the ball down the sideline for a 90-yard touchdown which gave the Pioneers the lead for good.
“He was legit just mad,” Dennis-Lee said. “Mad that no one was kicking it to him. He got his chance and got out. “
On the sideline, Janz — the team’s play-caller — was trying to find a way to make the right calls and keep pace with the high-scoring Apollos. Then, Bradford answered his predicament in under 10 seconds.
“That makes a coordinator’s heart smile,” he said.
Sunset kept fighting, even getting a kickoff return touchdown from linebacker and offensive lineman Kadin Williams. But the Pioneers eventually outlasted Sunset.
Now, the Pioneers will head into a tough playoff path. But they believe their 75-point performance Friday, in the town where the Oregon Trail ended, could put them on the right track.
“We know we can go toe-to-toe with people,” Janz said. “We know if we continue to grow, continue to build, continue to fight, we have an opportunity.”
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