Sunset defense stands tall, shuts down Westview, 17-0
By now, the Metro League knows all about Sunset's high-powered offense, the flashy playmakers, its dialed-in signal caller Coleman Newsom, the seasoned offensive line that's both agile in pass protection and enraged on the ground.
But if the Apollos are going to make in-roads in the Class 6A postseason, if they want to have a puncher's chance at slaying the conference's Goliath next week, Sunset needs the kind of the cantankerous defense that can disrupt and dash the opposition even when its own offense isn't operating at maximum efficiency.
Ultimately, Sunset's season will come down to how its defense performs the rest of the way. And if Friday night was a sort of foreshadowing, the Apollos just might possess the sort of playoff staying power that pushes themselves into that proverbial upper echelon of the 6A ranks.
Facing their crosstown rival that's had the Apollos' number the past three seasons, Sunset shut down Westview, snatching three critical takeaways including two inside the red zone while holding the Wildcats to just 214 yards of total offense. The defensive dominance, coupled with a sufficient amount of well-timed offensive scores, gave Sunset a critical 17-0 win at Sunset High School, setting up a huge showdown with four-time defending league champion Jesuit next week at Cronin Field.
"It shows how deep this team is," Sunset senior linebacker Nathan Kimball said. "We knew we could play both sides of the ball and make sure that if one side of the ball is struggling, the other side is going to step up and win the game for the team. Everyone did their jobs, everyone was focused, stepped up and did their responsibilities."
Though the Sunset defense stole the show, the latest Apollo-Wildcat boundary feud was a defensive battle in every sense, two crosstown rivals not giving an inch while keying in on each other's top playmakers and neutralizing them with black-and-blue physicality, sound tackling technique, and solid overall team defense. There were big hits galore, pads crunching, helmets thumping. Neither team wanted to get one-upped or ethered when it came to bringing the wood.
"There's something about playing Sunset that makes you want to kill somebody," Westview senior linebacker Levi Adams said with a laugh. "But, it's all love after the game. We're all friends. Some of us went to school together when we're younger, so after the game, we're all good. But during the game, we're battling. It's definitely my favorite game of the year."
"It doesn't matter where you come from, a rivalry game is always fun," Sunset senior offensive lineman Tyler Ganoung said. "You know the stakes are high, so I knew I had to step it up this game. This was a big game for everybody. We wanted to come out and win and we did."
Sunset had nearly twice as many total yards (144) as Westview (75) in the first half, but the Wildcats' defense was tight-fisted and tough, led by Adams, middle linebacker Mante Woods and defensive end Jaquay Rucker who helped gum up Sunset's ground game and messed up the Apollos' timing through the air. At the half, Sunset led 3-0 on a 33-yard field goal by sophomore Callum Craig.
"On defense, we played to the best of our ability, even if it's not reflected on the scoreboard," Adams said. "That's a game we could've won, but we have next week and a season ahead of us. We did well tonight, we just have to finish."
A week after stunning Southridge with a number of huge turnovers and stops Sunset's defense again rose to the challenge and bore down went it needed to in crunch time moments. On the first drive of the second half, Newsom rolled right and ripped a low-lying throw to Nick Niedermeyer who absorbed a monster hit from Westview cornerback Patrick Maddox but held onto the ball in the end zone for the 10-yard score to go up 10-0.
Westview responded promptly, deploying Maddox, Gavin Lloyd, and EJ Broussard on the ground to march down to the Apollo 10-yard line. Yet, Westview junior quarterback Cielo Del Rosario rolled right and tried to flick a pass along the sideline, but Kimball ranged over in coverage, read Del Rosario's eyes and picked the ball off clean to thwart the Wildcat drive inside the red zone with a little more than six minutes to go in the third.
"Usually I'm nicknamed 'Butters' on the team because I can't catch," Kimball said with a laugh. "I'm glad I was able to make a play for my team. I was hoping to stay on my feet, but it felt good."
Westview was able to move the ball at times, methodically matriculating the pigskin past the chains to keep drives alive and afloat. Yet when it came time to polish off those said marches with scores, the Wildcats came up empty. Look no further than the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Maddox picked off a Newsom pass inside the Sunset red zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Westview was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and was moved back to its own four-yard line.
Still, Del Rosario and company marched 79 yards in more than eight minutes, putting the ball at the Sunset 14-yard line with about four-and-half minutes to go, trailing just 10-0. A touchdown and Westview would've been in business. However, Del Rosario dropped back and looked to his left, couldn't find anybody open so he took off down the middle of the field. As the junior signal-caller tried to spin away from a Sunset defender, Apollo senior linebacker Gabe Leonard squared up Del Rosario and popped the ball free. A mad scramble for the loose rock ensued and Sunset cornerback Nick Cizik dove on it at the Apollo 8-yard line to give the ball back to Sunset with more than four minutes to go in the fourth.
And Sunset wasted no time in going for the jugular. Two plays after Cizik's fumble recovery, Newsom went up top to Ryan Olson who won a 50-50 ball out of their air over Maddox, turned down the right sideline and raced 88 yards to the house to put Westview away with the huge touchdown to extend Sunset's lead to 17-0 with two and a half minutes to go.
"We all play together as a family," Ganoung said. "I've been on teams before where we've played separate. But at Sunset, we're one unit. We win together, we lose together. There are no cliques. We're all friends who can talk to each other about anything and everything."
When it came to defensive standouts, the Apollos had aplenty. Sunset's front-seven was fast and ferocious. Kimball, Leonard, Marve Nyembo, Coulter Layden, Anthony Pasion and Issac Lovings, among others, bedeviled the Wildcat offense with a mix of blitzes and one-on-one bull rushes that collapsed the pocket and closed off running lanes.
"It's definitely confidence, the defense has been growing a lot," Kimball said. "(Nyembo) has been switching positions all throughout high school and that guy has turned it on this season. I love to see that. And I can always count on Pasion to carry our team. He goes in there and makes big plays. He might be a big guy, but he always gets to that ball somehow."
Craig came up with a highlight reel-like interception in the fourth quarter and the Apollo defensive backs did their homework on Del Rosario, sitting on the numerous square-outs and hitches Westview wanted to throw on the perimeter. Ganoung said there are times during the week in practice where head coach Damien Merrick will pit Sunset's starting offense against its starting defense and let them try to top each other for short stretches in a de facto mano y mano grudge match. It's a struggle of wills, one where iron sharpens iron and helps prepare Sunset for Friday nights.
"We get after each other in practice and when it comes to the game, (the defense) knows how to get after it," Ganoung said. "We'll line up against each other best-on-best and we'll go for it. I feel like that's what sets our defense apart, especially in Metro. We get after it every day and play with physicality."
Going into the Jesuit game, both the Crusaders and Apollos are 5-0 in Metro. Jesuit beat Beaverton 47-30 on Friday after falling behind the Beavers 10-0 in the second quarter. The Crusaders haven't lost since dropping a 28-24 decision to Central Catholic on Sept. 8. Westview, Beaverton, and Southridge are all 2-3 in Metro, but the Skyhawks have the tiebreaker over both squads since they beat each team head-to-head. Southridge, as it stands, is fourth in Metro. Beaverton faces Westview next week at Westview High in a huge conference matchup that'll help decide who stays in the hunt for a top-four finish in league. Moreover, the Beavers are 33rd in the 6A power rankings. And if the playoffs started today, Beaverton would be on the outside looking in. Westview is 41st in the 6A power rankings. Both teams are in desperate need of a victory, making for a juicy Metro matchup.