For about 29 minutes, Gonzaga Prep’s season opening 9-6 win over Bellarmine Prep Friday night at Albi Stadium was a typical season opener.
But the last three minutes made up for it.
In those final, frantic minutes, the Lions from Tacoma scored on a trick play, the Bulldogs scored on a 63-yard bomb, a sophomore kicker named Stockton booted a game-winning 27-yard field goal and, oh yes, three kicks were blocked, including Bellarmine’s last gasp, a 42-yard attempt to tie.
After the two teams struggled for three quarters with offensive execution, penalties and, in Gonzaga’s case, turnovers, the Lions put together an 87-yard drive midway through the fourth. It was topped off by Michael Williams’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Jon Grant, who had handed Williams the ball on a reverse and came free down the left side.
But the Pups, who lost 17-7 to Bellarmine last year in Tacoma, blocked the extra point, giving them a boost.
Three plays later, it paid off.
Billy Karwacki, making his first start at quarterback (he finished 7 for 15 passing for 124 yards), scrambled to his right from the 37-yard line and found Brandon Kennedy 10 yards behind the Bellarmine defense for the tying score.
The two seniors had almost hooked up earlier on nearly the same scenario, but Kennedy stopped and the pass went long. Not this time.
“I just kept going and kept my eyes on the ball,” he said.
But Bellarmine’s line poured through to block Michael Stockton’s point-after attempt, and with 2:16 left, it was tied at 6.
The Lions hadn’t turned over the ball up to that point, but they fumbled three plays later and Vince Tschirgi recovered at the Bellarmine 32. Facing a fourth-and-nine from the 11 five plays later, Gonzaga coach Dave Carson turned to Stockton again.
“I wanted to take some pressure off Billy, that’s why Michael was kicking, though they were even in practice,” Carson said of going with a sophomore kicker. “After the first one, which wasn’t Michael’s fault, someone suggested we switch to Billy. But I said ‘let’s go with Michael and build some confidence.’ ”
Mike Ogrin’s snap, Kennedy’s hold and Stockton’s kick were all perfect and the Bullpups were ahead.
“I told him to relax and treat it just like practice,” Kennedy said of his seniorly advice to G-Prep smallest varsity contributor. “A couple of days ago he said he knew he was a sophomore and was on varsity, but it wasn’t a big deal because he was just a kicker.
“I told him ‘kickers win games,’ ” Kennedy said, smiling before repeating himself. “Kickers win games.”