McMinnville spoils Forest Grove's Homecoming, narrowly defeating the Vikings 21-14
It was a great night for football in Forest Grove last Friday — until it wasn't.
Everything was going so well. The rain was for the most part staying away, the Homecoming festivities were going as planned and the upset-minded Vikings were setting the first-half stage for a second half to remember for the students, alumni and hometown patrons packing the bleachers to watch their Viks bludgeon rival McMinnville in the annual Pigeon Bowl game at Dick Hendricks Memorial Stadium.
But in the end of the gridiron drama there was no happy ending for the Forest Grove faithful in the stands, students lining the track or players who had nothing left to give.
The Grizzlies' senior receiver Odin Thorson scored on a 14-yard run with 4:49 remaining to break a 14-14 tie, and the McMinnville defense held the Vikings on ffourth-and-short on the ensuing Forest Grove possession to seal the game and break the hearts of the hometown fans and a team that deserved better than the 21-14 defeat.
"That's the hardest game I've ever played," said the noticeably drained senior Forest Grove running back and linebacker Drake Littlefield. "We fought the whole game and I'm proud of these guys. Our underclassmen, our seniors, they played tough every play."
It was the seventh loss in eight tries for the Vikings this year, but hidden amidst a record few teams would desire are a mitt-full of victories that won't show up on a scoreboard or in the standings, yet haven't gone unnoticed by the people who have been there since Day 1.
"I've been preaching that they had to believe in themselves all year," said head coach Perry Herbst. "If you believe it, you'll achieve it, and our coaching staff has been preaching that. Last week the kids really thought they should've competed better in that game against Crescent Valley, and they took that motivation into this week and you saw the difference."
Herbst said his players had their best week of practice prior to the Oct. 20 game, and that their effort, coupled with their desire to work on the little things, propelled them to a quality performance against the Grizzlies and from where they were two months ago opposed to where they are and how they're playing now.
"We're night and day better today than we were a couple months ago," Herbst said. "The kids have put in the work and it really clicked for them this week."
It wasn't a fairy-tale start. After a pick-six on the Vikings' opening possession gave McMinnville and early 7-0 lead, Forest Grove appeared on the verge of falling two scores behind when the Grizzlies lined up for a 30-yard field goal on their first offensive possession of the game. But the kick was off the mark and the two teams locked horns for the remainder of the first half, heading to the locker room with McMinnville holding tightly to their 7-0 lead.
Following a Littlefield interception on the Grizzlies' opening drive of the first half, Forest Grove went 32 yards on three consecutive Cole Smith runs, then capped the night's first scoring drive when Littlefield took an inside handoff, burst through a hole, cut back to his left and darted to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown. After a Tanner Mannen extra point, the game was tied 7-7, where it would stay for slightly less than three minutes.
After recovering a Viking onside kick, Mac started from its own 49-yard line and drove 51 yards in five plays, capped by a 22-yard touchdown pass from Samuel DuPuis to Colton Smith to give the Grizzlies back the lead at 14-7. But not to be denied, Forest Grove went 50 yards on their next possession, using nine Littlefield runs on an 11-play drive to once again tie the game when Littlefield scored his second touchdown of the night, plunging in from three yards out and knotting the game 14-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"Drake showed up to play tonight," said Herbst. "It was senior night and he left it all out there. You can't ask for any more than that."
Unfortunately, that's where the fun ended for the home team.
After the two teams traded punts, McMinnville took the ball on their own 45-yard line and drove inside the Viking 10 with a series of runs and a couple key deep-out completions to Smith, something that plagued the Forest Grove defense much of the night.
"Smith is the best receiver in our league," said Herbst. "We had a plan to keep him underneath us and the guys did a great job executing it. It just is what it is."
McMinnville head coach Ryan McIrvin agreed.
"Our outside receivers are pretty good and have some good speed," said Irvin. "Props to Forest Grove, they took away the over the top stuff, so they gave us the underneath stuff so we tried to take it."
Forest Grove, however, wasn't going to go down without a fight. The Vikings forced the Grizzlies into a fourth-and-two play with just under five minutes remaining, paving the way for Thorson's game-winning run and putting Forest Grove's fate in the offense's hands with 4:49 on the clock.
The Vikings used two short Littlefield runs and an eight-yard pass play to Kurtis Van Dyke to set up a fourth-and-one on their own 40. They then chose to go back to Littlefield and it appeared he had gotten the necessary yardage for a first down, but the subsequent measurement proved otherwise and the Grizzlies were able to run out the clock and snuff out Forest Grove's hopes.
"It didn't appear to be a great spot for us," said Herbst. "But that's probably how it always feels when you're on the wrong end of it."
Littlefield isn't quite ready to throw in the towel on this season or this team quite yet.
"I'm just so happy to play on a team like this, because we didn't get the outcome we wanted, but I did everything I could've done and I believe my team did too," the senior said. "We've still got one more game left and we feel like we can get a win."
Forest Grove ends there season Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at South Salem.