It might sound cliché, but with four one-loss teams entering play in Week 8, every game in the Greater Spokane League 4A is going to feel like an early playoff game.
The atmosphere and result at Central Valley on Friday night bore that out.
Visiting Gonzaga Prep built an early lead, withstood a second-half comeback directed by a sophomore backup quarterback, then pulled it out in overtime to gain an advantage in league play with one week remaining in the regular season.
Robert Collier Jr. scored on a 9-yard touchdown run in overtime, then the defense stood tall as the visiting Bullpups beat Central Valley 28-21 in a showdown with playoff implications.
With District 8 only receiving two seeds to the state tournament, every loss in league is magnified. When CV lost to Mead and G-Prep was shut out by Ferris last week, it set up a virtual elimination game.
G-Prep (5-2, 3-1) is tied with Ferris (7-1, 3-1) and Mead (6-2, 3-1) at the top of the league, with CV a game back with one to play.
On Thursday, G-Prep hosts Lewis and Clark. Ferris and Mead face off on Friday at Albi Stadium. CV hosts University on Friday – and will hope for some luck.
G-Prep coach Dave McKenna has been through all this a few times, though.
“I talked to (CV) coach (Ryan) Butner before the game – this is playoff football now,” he said. “I’m really proud of our kids and how we battled and hung together. We’ve got to get better at finishing certain things and doing some things, but I was proud of our kids, man, really proud of them.”
“It’s a tough league,” G-Prep quarterback Ryan McKenna said. “Every team’s good, and we definitely found that out there. That team (CV) is a great team, and it was a good win.”
On its first drive, G-Prep was faced with fourth-and-1 at the CV 45. McKenna kept it, spun out of a big hit at the line of scrimmage, busted it to the outside and went the distance to get the Bullpups on the board first.
“We had a couple players step up big,” Ryan McKenna said. “Our O-line. Absolutely amazing job. Absolutely amazing executed up front, couldn’t be better.”
McKenna finished with 222 yards on 24 carries.
CV put together a good drive, with Gabbert connecting with Carsen Raab for 28 yards, but the drive stalled and Landon Rehkow’s 44-yard field-goal attempt into a strong crosswind was wide left.
After Jaden Ortega went off-tackle for 24 yards, McKenna followed Ortega into the hole on a designed keeper then cut to the right sideline again and outran the Bears’ defense for a 65-yard touchdown run.
“Our coaches put together a great game plan. They prepared us well all week,” Ryan McKenna said. “And we just went out and executed and the offensive line did great. It’s really them that made me feel comfortable so, yeah.”
CV went to the ground attack, handing to Chad Carlson on 10 consecutive plays – the last of which was a 2-yard touchdown plunge to get CV on the board.
Later in the quarter, G-Prep started at its 18 and went on a 13-play drive, culminated by a 5-yard TD run by Chase Becker, making it 21-7 with 3:09 left in the half.
“Ever since we lost to Ferris, we knew this was going to be a big game,” Becker said. “We came out and did what we needed to do.”
Carlson carried 21 yards out to the G-Prep 45 but came up injured on the play. CV then took to the air, with Gabbert connecting on short passes to Kyle Parkman and Cameron Sheley to get into the red zone.
On third-and-10 at the 18 with 13 seconds left, Gabbert scrambled right and threw a dart to the back of the end zone, where Jayce Simmons made a leaping grab between two defenders for a TD, trimming the Bears’ deficit to 21-14 at intermission.
CV came out of the lockers without Gabbert or Carlson. Carlson sat on the sidelines holding his helmet most of the second half, while Gabbert eventually returned to the sideline in street clothes.
Sophomore Luke Abshire took over at quarterback and hit Sheley for 29 yards, but his attempt to go deep down the sideline was picked off by Luciano Reynolds, giving G-Prep the ball back at its 25.
Late in the fourth, a personal foul put the Bears at their 45. Abshire found Raab for 24 yards to the G-Prep 22, then Carter Childress to the 2. On the next play, Parkman plowed in to the end zone, tying it at 21.
CV forced a punt and got it back at its 26 with 40 seconds left, but Abshire was sacked for a loss and a last-second pass didn’t get to midfield.
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