Gonzaga Prep was hurt by graduation as hard as any school in the region – the Bullpups lost Greater Spokane League MVP Connor Halonen and 10 other all-league selections from last season’s 4A champion.
But any suggestion of Gonzaga Prep’s potential demise is greatly exaggerated.
Junior fullback Jaden Ortega bulled his way for 111 yards and four touchdowns and the Bullpups roughed up the visiting Coeur d’Alene Vikings 45-13 in a nonleague game – a statement that seemed to indicate to any team that takes G-Prep lightly should do so at its own peril.
Sophomore Robert Collier Jr. added 92 yards rushing and two TDs. G-Prep (1-0) broke a three-game losing streak to CdA (1-1) dating back to 1979.
“Everybody was sleeping on us throughout the whole offseason,” Ortega said. “But I know we’re good enough. We can do a lot of things this year.”
Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna thought the win was a confidence boost for his club.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “You know, a lot of them haven’t played a whole bunch. And so we put a lot of kids on the field tonight. And they played really well, really proud of them.”
G-Prep senior quarterback Jake Keyes made his first start, splitting time with sophomore Ryan McKenna.
Keyes rushed 11 times for 15 yards and went 1 for 7 for 17 yards, while McKenna carried 18 times for 63 yards and went 3 for 3 for 72 yards.
“They’re both going to play,” Dave McKenna said, “and we’ll see what happens down the road. But Jake does a great job leading as a senior and Ryan steps in and does some some good things as well.”
Coeur d’Alene turned it over five times – four in the first half when G-Prep built a 24-0 lead. The Bullpups defense held Jack Prka to 14-of-23 passing for 194 yards, an interception and four fumbles lost.
CdA’s Colbey Nosworthy, who had 14 catches with a pair of scores in a 31-26 win over Rigby last week, was held to two catches for 24 yards.
After trading punts early, CdA got something going. Prka connected with Brennan Crawford for 19 yards and Ty Pottinger for 22 more. A helmet-to-helmet hit gave CdA the ball at the G-Prep 20. Two plays later though, Aedyn Wyncoop picked off a short over-the-middle pass to thwart the drive.
That gave the Bullpups’ offense some momentum and a long drive resulted in an Evan Duchense 30-yard field goal.
On second-and-10 from the 40, Prka fumbled and G-Prep recovered. Cayden Kerr carried for 8 yards and a late hit gave G-Prep a first-and-10 at the 12. Two plays later, Ortega pounded it in from the 8 for a touchdown and 10-0 lead.
After a Vikings punt, Ortega busted a 21-yard carry to get back into CdA territory. A penalty on third-and-6 put the Bullpups on the 16 and two plays later Ortega bulled his way in from the 5 to give Gonzaga Prep a 17-0 lead with 4:28 left in the half.
“It was just all our linemen making their blocks, opening holes for me,” Ortega said. “They had a really great game. They played their butts off. It was awesome.”
McKenna praised his big running back – and his linemen.
“It starts up front and he’s a really hard runner,” he said. “He’s a very good athlete. But it really starts up front those guys.”
Coeur d’Alene took advantage of a couple of big plays: Crawford gained 24 yards on a sweep then he got loose on a screen for 17 yards and a first down at the G-Prep 33.
But Prka coughed it up again and Zane Melzer fell on the fumble at the 28 to take it right back for G-Prep.
McKenna connected on a 23-yard pass play to Chase Becker and a few plays later, Ortega took it off-tackle for 18 yards and another touchdown with 40.1 seconds left in the half.
“That first half, the first game of the season is pretty, pretty special,” McKenna said. “The kids played as a unit and they believe in it and they have fun.”
CdA took the second-half kick and Prka finally hooked up with Nosworthy for 21 yards to the G-Prep 27. On the next play, Trent Elstad carried up the middle to the 1.
Prka fumbled the snap again but Gunner Guilio scooped it up and scrambled to the left pylon for the Vikings’ first score.
After a short punt, CdA took over at the G-Prep 40 with momentum. Elstad busted off a 35-yard run down to the 4 and two plays later Guilio pounded it in from the 1. The conversion failed and G-Prep’s lead had been cut to 24-13 with 6:38 left in the third.
The Bullpups responded. McKenna connected with Kerr for 47 yards on a seam route to the CdA 18 and two plays later Robert Collier Jr. twisted into the end zone to make it 31-13.
On its next possession, CdA fumbled a swing pass and Gonzaga Prep recovered at the Vikings 13. Two plays later, Collier went off tackle for another score and the Bullpups led 38-13 after three quarters.
Ortega added a 1-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter.
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