TWIN FALLS — Late in the third quarter Friday night, the Minico High School football team faced a 27-6 deficit against rival Twin Falls, with almost the entire length of the field to go for a second touchdown.
As if head coach Keelan McCaffrey’s halftime speech finally sunk into his players’ minds, the Spartans flipped the proverbial switch. They began a drive in their own territory, and Rylan Chandler bounced outside and matriculated his way down the right sideline for a 55-yard score.
Suddenly the matchup became a real game, and Minico had Uncle Mo on its side. The Spartans were able to get in the end zone one more time — a six-yard Colter May run in the waning minutes of the fourth — and had a chance to tie on a late drive, but came up short in a 27-20 regular season-ending loss to the Bruins Friday night at Twin Falls high School.
“Any time we play Minico, it’s a big game for both schools,” said Twin Falls head coach Allyn Reynolds. “It’s a nice rivalry. The game didn’t matter for seeding, but we were playing for pride.”
Despite the defeat, McCaffrey was happy to see his team respond to adversity and build toward next week’s playoff game against two-time defending 4A state champion Skyline.
“What we talked about at halftime was energy and effort,” he said. “Those are the only things we can control. In the second half we battled and gained that momentum. We want to win, but it was important for us to gain momentum.”
In fact, Minico’s entire season has been one of building momentum. With McCaffrey taking over for long-time leader Tim Perrigot, it took some time for the Spartans to settle into what they eventually became.
“I’ve been in the building for three years already,” McCaffrey said. “I know these kids. We’re not trying to establish a new culture, but Perrigot built something so great, and we’re trying to take that and run with it. We’re not starting over.”
On Friday, Twin Falls scored two early touchdowns, both by Jarod Perry. They were of the short variety, a three-yarder and a one-yarder. As the second quarter began, the Bruins were on top 14-0.
After a Caden Zierenberg field goal, and with a little over a minute remaining in the first half, Perry punched it in for the third time, this one from 19 yards out. Twin Falls was on top 24-0 and ready to head to the locker room.
“What was really working was (quarterback) Nick (Swensen),” Reynolds said. “He was making great reads, and we were taking what they were giving us.”
“Those early scores were huge for us,” said Twin Falls senior lineman Hudson Klundt. “We just did our jobs and it paid off.”
Minico, however, had other plans. Chandler found pay dirt on a nine-yard run, and the score was 24-6 at halftime. For the Spartans, it was the spark they needed.
Zierenberg kicked a second field goal late in the third to finish the scoring for Twin Falls. Chandler’s 55-yard touchdown shortly thereafter kickstarted the Spartan’s comeback.
“Everyone was doing their jobs and buying in,” said Minico running back Colter May. “This whole game was about building momentum as we go play Skyline in the dome next week.”
As the Bruins tried to milk the clock, their offense was hampered as starting quarterback Nick Swensen stood on the sideline on crutches and an ice pack strapped to his right foot. The injury is potentially big news for Twin Falls as it hosts Idaho Falls in the state playoffs next week.
“We wanted to stay healthy, but our quarterback right now is kind of putting a damper on things,” Reynolds said. “But, you know what? That’s why you have backups.”
May scored the Spartans’ final touchdown as he punched it in from six yards out. The defense got the ball back, and Minico began a two-minute drill. The drive finally ended when Twin Falls safety Xander Barigar knocked down a Connor Stocking pass on fourth down to preserve the Bruin victory.
“We told the kids we had to finish,” Reynolds said. “They really did have the momentum, and we were hanging on. I felt that we were kind of playing not to lose. We have to get better at that.”
Chandler carried the ball 15 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and May caught seven passes for 74 yards and added a six-yard rushing TD.
Perry rushed 34 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Swensen completed 13-of-18 passes for 112 yards, a score and no interceptions, and he rushed for 38 yards on nine carries.
The Bruins (7-2) and Idaho Falls kick off Friday at 7 p.m.
Minico (7-2) will face Skyline at Holt Arena in Pocatello, with the day and time to be determined. The Grizzlies beat the Spartans for last year’s state title.
“It’s kind of funny and it’s kind of great we get to play them in the first round,” McCaffrey said. “What a chance. I’m really excited to play against those guys.”
UPDATE (10/20): Minico and Skyline will play at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Holt Arena.