SC resident AJ Minyard leaves it all on the field in Los Gatos’ loss in CIF 2-A State Football Championship – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Jim Seimas

PASADENA — Santa Cruz’s AJ Minyard played his last game for Los Gatos High’s football team on Saturday night — a heartbreaking, but entertaining 45-42 loss to Visalia’s Central Valley Christian in the CIF 2-A State Championship at Pasadena City College — but it may not be the final time the Wildcats’ two-sport star competes on the gridiron.

The 6-foot-3, 155-pound, senior right-hander — also a star pitcher on the school’s baseball team — said he has entertained thoughts of continuing his football career.

“Yes, and that’s a decision to be made later,” Minyard said.

Los Gatos High quarterback AJ Minyard, left, a Santa Cruz resident, shares a moment with teammate Nate Goldsbury after the CIF state football championship Division 2-A game at Pasadena City College on Saturday night. (Brandon Vallance – Bay Area News Group)

After winning the starting quarterback role this season, Minyard led the Wildcats (12-3) to unprecedented success. They won the title in their debut campaign in the Peninsula Athletic League’s Bay Division, and followed it up by winning the Central Coast Section Division I and CIF NorCal Regional 2-A crowns to secure their first berth in a state final.

“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Jaylen Thomas, a senior receiver. “He stepped up, stepped into those shoes we had to fill.”

Minyard entered the championship having passed for 2,025 yards and 18 touchdowns, while throwing eight interceptions, the majority of which came in the first half of the season.

His improvement has been marked, Wildcats coach Mark Krail said.

“AJ earned it,” Krail said. “We didn’t hand him the job beginning of his senior year. There was, kinda, a three quarterback competition and we had to navigate that, and that was tough. About midway through the year he kinda established himself as the guy and he played awesome. The beginning of the year he was kinda turning it over a little bit and making some careless throws. But the last eight to nine games, he’s had two picks and done pretty good.”

Krail wasn’t surprised to hear that Minyard is considering playing football at the next level.

“That’s the growth,” Krail said. “He has been coached well by our quarterback coach, Nick DeMartini. I think he’s open to the coaching he’s gotten, and been willing to go along with what we suggest. He has a pretty good sense of our offense, so that gives me confidence that if he did want to play somewhere, that he’d go somewhere and learn what they’re doing, how they do it, and, probably, do well.”

Minyard was distraught minutes removed from Saturday’s loss. He bleeds Black and Orange, as do his football brethren.

Los Gatos High quarterback AJ Minyard, a Santa Cruz resident, shares a moment with his mom, Shannon, during the finals seconds of the CIF 2-A State Football Championship at Pasadena City College on Saturday night. (Brandon Vallance – Bay Area News Group)

But, after he and his teammates heard encouraging words from their coaching staff, and a sense of accomplishment took over, Minyard held his high. He knew he just competed in a heck of a game.

“We had it in us,” Minyard said. “We might not have been able to show it, but this probably the most fast, physical, and tenacious team we’ve ever had. And we were ready to power through no matter what happened.”

Minyard has attended schools in Santa Clara County his whole life. His parents, Adam and Shannon, both teach at Los Gatos High, so he carpooled with them while attending Van Meter Elementary and Fisher Middle School. He served as Los Gatos’ ballboy on Friday nights in his youth.

“There’s nothing I would trade for to not go to LG,” he said.

His pride was apparent on the field. The Wildcatz committed a pair of early turnovers, which included a flukey interception, and found themselves in a 17-0 hole midway through the second quarter. But they showed they were fully capable of matching offense fireworks with the explosive Cavaliers (15-1), who are headlined by running back Bryson Donelson, a Fresno State commit who entered with 3,095 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns (44 rushing, nine receiving).

Donelson lived up to his billing. He rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, and had 93 yards receiving and a touchdown on seven catches. Quarterback Brent Kroeze also shined, passing for 257 yards and three touchdown.

Minyard gave the Cavaliers all they could handle with his stellar second half, when he completed 16 of 19 attempts for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a score.

Los Gatos High quarterback AJ Minyard, a Santa Cruz resident, rolls out against Central Valley Christian during the CIF Division 2-A State Championship in Pasadena on Saturday night. (Raul Ebio – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“I was just trying to command my boys the best I could,” said Minyard, who finished 20-of-27 passing for 315 yards. “I know they trust me and they know that I trust them. So we were just rolling.”

Los Gatos scored touchdowns on its final six possessions, including all five drives in the second half. Minyard threw scoring strikes to Jaylen Thomas, sophomore receiver Max Thomas, and tight end Owen Panu, and shined with his feet as well, scoring on a 17-yard run.

“He made some great throws,” Krail said. “We had guys open all night. I shouldn’t say it, but they couldn’t stop us. He played great.”

The Wildcats simply ran out of time.

Minyard left Wildcats fans wanting to see more — of him, and the team. Perhaps they’ll get part of that wish when Minyard finalizes his college plans.

“He’s very athletic,” Jaylen Thomas said. “I don’t doubt that he can play D-I sports.”

Whether it’s on the gridiron or baseball diamond remains to be seen.

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2023-12-10 23:01:35 , Watsonville – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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