The Gonzaga Prep football team never, at any moment, lost control of its State 4A playoff opener Saturday.
The fact the Bullpups made things curious at times – with turnovers, careless penalties, missed tackles and other sundry errors – well, that’s another matter.
In the end, Gonzaga Prep was too much for the visiting Battle Ground Tigers in a 42-14 decision that shouldn’t have been that close.
No. 4-ranked G-Prep (11-0) stays home next Saturday to face unranked Woodinville (7-4) at 1 p.m. Woodinville beat Davis of the Big Nine Conference 38-6 on Friday.
It’s G-Prep’s third time in the quarterfinals in four years.
Conor McKenna sparked a fast start for the Bullpups, blocking Battle Ground’s first punt that teammate Taj Hoard recovered in the end zone with just 1 minute, 18 seconds expired.
Moments later, Michael Chan got the first of his two interceptions, setting up the Bullpups at the Tigers’ 28-yard line.
Five plays later, G-Prep led 14-0 when running back Mason Plese scored from 2 yards out.
After a lengthy Battle Ground drive that stalled at G-Prep’s 16, the Bullpups struck quickly again. This time quarterback Liam Bell found streaking Nick Johnson on a 65-yard TD connection, increasing the lead to 21-0 with 3:31 to go in the first quarter.
This is where the stretch of self-inflicted setbacks began for G-Prep. By halftime, the Tigers pulled within 21-7.
The Bullpups used all the allotted time at halftime, coming out at the very last moment.
“We weren’t focused the first half,” Bullpups coach Dave McKenna said. “We were too amped up, too excited; one extra day of practice may have hurt us a little bit. That’s my fault. We’ll get them dialed in. It’s my mistake.”
Whatever G-Prep lacked in focus in the first half dissipated in the final two quarters.
It started on the Bullpups’ first drive. Six-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end Evan Weaver got his first carry on the third play, and he burst through the middle untouched, sprinting 62 yards for a TD.
Almost like the game’s start, G-Prep scored in 1:04 of the second half, extending its lead to 28-7.
Battle Ground (8-3), in the state playoffs for the first time since 1979, answered on its first possession. But the Tigers couldn’t keep up thereafter.
“We definitely had some problems everywhere,” said Johnson, who scored G-Prep’s final TD on a 69-yard run with 3:31 remaining in the game. “You can’t put it on one person. When it mattered we came through.”
Johnson finished with 110 yards rushing on seven carries to go along with his 65-yard TD reception.
Armani Marsh matched Chan’s two interceptions. Both Bullpups gave credit to their defensive line.
“We knew they were going to try to throw the intermediate routes, but we just stayed grounded and did what we do,” Chan said. “The pressure our (defensive line) gives me let’s things happen like that. Without those guys up front none of those things would be possible.”
Marsh said the team’s mistakes are on the players more than on the coaches.
“It’s on all of us but the players have to figure it out,” Marsh said.
G-Prep returned to what it does best on offense on its next-to-last score.
The Bullpups used 16 plays to wipe 7:48 off the clock before Weaver scored on a 1-yard dive.
“Those five guys up front worked hard,” McKenna said of the time-consuming possession. “That’s what is supposed to happen.”
McKenna is looking forward to another week.
“We’ll get better in all aspects,” McKenna said. “Here it’s 42-14 and we still have a lot of things we can do better.”
The most consistent phase for G-Prep was defense. The Bullpups finished with 10 sacks.
Moses Lake 28, Bellarmine Prep 27: The visiting Lions missed a field goal attempt in the final 30 seconds as the Chiefs prevailed at home.
Richland (10-1), a 30-3 winner over Central Valley, travels to Moses Lake (9-2) next week. That winner will face the G-Prep/Woodinville winner in the semifinals.
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