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Sports >  High school sports

Ryan McKenna leads Gonzaga Prep over Mt. Spokane in unprecedented football season opener

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 27, 2021

Gonzaga Prep’s Cayden Kerr, left, and Dawson Emery celebrate a first-quarter touchdown against the Mt. Spokane Wildcats during Saturday’s Greater Spokane League opener at the Mead School District’s Union Stadium.  (James Snook For The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Prep’s Cayden Kerr, left, and Dawson Emery celebrate a first-quarter touchdown against the Mt. Spokane Wildcats during Saturday’s Greater Spokane League opener at the Mead School District’s Union Stadium. (James Snook For The Spokesman-Review)

It wasn’t the opening day that the Mead School District would have wanted for its brand new football facility, but it worked out pretty well nonetheless. And nobody really minded that players had to come dressed on the bus and had to huddle in opposite stands during halftime due to pandemic protocols.

Though Saturday’s results will count in the shortened seven-game Greater Spokane League season, the overriding emotion of the day was gratitude.

Gratitude for the pristine and thoughtfully laid out Mead School District’s Union Stadium. Gratitude for the opportunity to play. Gratitude for the first football competition in the league in more than 15 months.

And after 48 minutes of a defensive struggle, gratitude that it happened at all.

Gonzaga Prep junior quarterback Ryan McKenna rushed for 116 yards with a short touchdown pass and the Bullpups held off the Wildcats 10-7 in a battle of traditional powerhouses in the GSL.

“It’s fun to come out on top.” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “But at the end of the day, playing Feb. 27? It’s great for kids to be playing football.”

“There were a lot of days where I didn’t think we would see today,” Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer said. “It’s great to get out here and compete with this group and watch these seniors get an opportunity to play the game that they love so much.”

“We saw it happening around (the state) and we knew that they could get it done,” McKenna said. “I’m glad our leaders said to let us play.”

Ryan McKenna said he never gave up hope getting a season in this school year.

“We were hoping, that’s all we could do. And we were excited that it did come, but we were just hoping praying and thankful it came,” he said.

“I really thought people weren’t gonna let us play,” G-Prep junior defensive lineman Ephraim Watkins said. “I really thought the governor was gonna say no. So, to be honest, I’m elated. I’m just happy to play, and I hope tonight proved that we all were extremely excited, extremely blessed to play tonight.”

Watkins discussed the difficulty many student-athletes have had this school year.

“Without this, it really was a struggle for me,” he said. “It was really just school, work out and that’s it. And that’s tough for a high school kid without the social activity, so I’m absolutely grateful. Attitude of gratitude, absolutely tonight.”

Despite the loss, Cloer said taking the field is a victory this season.

“You’re not guaranteed the next one, so that’s the thing – you got to enjoy it and enjoy every one that we have.”

Like everyone else, Cloer was in awe of the new stadium.

“It’s an amazing facility and it’s gonna be great Friday nights and great to have our own place to call home.”

“It’s really neat,” Dave McKenna said. “This is a beautiful facility – they did it right. At least, the parts we can see – we couldn’t get locker rooms. But look at it. I mean it’s just gorgeous.”

Mt. Spokane trailed much of the game, but its stout defense kept things within reach.

A 17-play touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter drew the Wildcats within three, but their last drive ended with Connor Marll being hauled down on a sack on fourth-and-17. G-Prep ran out the clock – with McKenna converting on a fourth-and-6 inside the final minute.

“They blocked it great. I didn’t have to do a thing,” McKenna said. “Our O-line played unbelievable the whole game and they really stepped up on that play.”

“He’s a competitor,” Dave McKenna said of his quarterback son. “But again, those guys up front, if you watch it, they’re body on a body and that’s all it takes. He had a seam, we got a few yards.”

Mt. Spokane fumbled on its first possession of the game at the G-Prep 40, where the Bullpups took over. G-Prep used a 10-play drive to cover 60 yards, culminating in McKenna’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Christian Hilburn.

A three-and-out for the Wildcats set G-Prep up at its 25. McKenna connected with Evan Duchense on a 14-yard gain as part of another long drive, which stalled at the Mt. Spokane 7. Duchense nailed a 19-yard field goal and G-Prep led 10-0 early in the second quarter.

“We expected a dogfight,” Watkins said. “This is their first game in the stadium. We knew that we weren’t going to get it easy, even we were up 10-0 we were saying, ‘Don’t settle.’ ”

It stayed that way until midway through the fourth quarter as both defenses did a good job controlling the lines of scrimmage.

“You know, obviously first game, some things were a little rough, but you know we played great as a team,” Ryan McKenna said. “O-line did unbelievable things. Our six senior linemen played unbelievable, so I’m just glad we got them the win.”

“I didn’t know what to expect, you know, with only 11 days of practice,” Cloer said. “In the snow last week, and you know we returned so few players with only three returners on both sides of the ball coming back.

“I thought it would take us some time to get going, and you could see a little bit of the rust there offensively. I talked to a lot of our kids – you know the last game they played was a JV game 15 months ago, so some of them got to get their feet wet and learn how to play varsity football.”

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