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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  High school sports

‘Just magical’: Gonzaga Prep stars look back 40 years to GSL’s first state football championship

Dec. 3, 2022 Updated Sat., Dec. 3, 2022 at 5:29 p.m.

By David Oriard For The Spokesman-Review

In 1982, the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups did something no other Greater Spokane League football team had accomplished. They won a state championship.

There had been close calls before. In 1977, Gonzaga Prep lost to Sumner 12-7 in the championship game; in ’78, Sumner beat Lewis and Clark 3-0 in a state semifinal. West Valley (1976) and East Valley (1981) both won Kingbowl championships for the Border League/Frontier League, but no GSL team had raised the championship trophy since the WIAA instituted a playoff format in 1973.

Eastern Washington teams, especially at the big-school level, were considered second-rate.

“It was actually brought up quite a bit – and my dad still talks about that,” said Jamie FitzGerald, a first-team All-GSL defensive back for that 1982 G-Prep team. “He was upset at how the Seattle Times was really biased toward South Kitsap and how the East really didn’t play football over here. We had teams, but we weren’t competitive.

“Don Anderson (G-Prep’s head coach) was really good about putting that message into us subtly. A lot of us went into that game with a ‘we are about to show you’ attitude.”

Sure enough, the Bullpups showed ’em. Gonzaga Prep defeated nationally ranked South Kitsap 25-7. “I don’t think they were ever in the game, really,” FitzGerald said.

First-team All-GSL selection Fred Ulowetz was the star of the game, at least on offense. Running the wishbone offense from the quarterback position, he gained 146 yards on 23 carries. There was a big pass play, too. In Ulowetz’s mind, the highlight-reel play of the game was a diving catch FitzGerald made for a touchdown.

“He made the most amazing diving catch on the TD pass I threw to him in that championship game! Incredible catch!,” Ulowetz said.

“We must have been up 18-7. We were fourth-and-goal going in and coach Anderson called Fred and I over to the sideline,” FitzGerald said. After a discussion about what to run, Anderson asked both players if they thought they could pull it off. Both said yes.

“That turned into a pretty good throw and catch. Fred just got annihilated on the play and threw a great ball and I dove for it and caught it and that sealed the deal for that game,” FitzGerald said.

“I think his throw was amazing or I wouldn’t have got there. That’s the way I look at it.”

“That was the last time I ever had the wind knocked out of me,” Ulowetz said. “I was down trying to get air for several minutes, and only saw his amazing catch on replay on the huge video screen they had in the Dome.”

FitzGerald and Ulowetz shared those memories and several others in emails and phone interviews last week.

Ulowetz played at Wyoming after high school before a recurring shoulder injury convinced him to give up football. He transferred to Eastern Washington and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. A retired Deputy Sheriff in Snohomish County, he lives in Marysville, Washington, with his wife of 31 years. They have two grown children.

FitzGerald went on to play defensive back at Idaho State and spent three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings in which he said he spent most of the time going back and forth from the taxi squad. He lives in Spokane Valley and operates a business in Idaho that sells ignition interlock systems. He is still connected to football. His son, J.T. FitzGerald, played three seasons for the Spokane Shock and Jamie is the defensive coordinator at Ridgeline High School.

There were many stars on that Bullpups team, not just Ulowetz and FitzGerald. Current Gonzaga University baseball coach Mark Machtolf was named GSL lineman of the year as a tight end; running back/defensive back Dan (Booner) McCanna played at Idaho; and sophomore running back Aaron Robb went on to play at Notre Dame.

FitzGerald and junior teammate Rick Phillips comprised a list of at least 11 Bullpups who went on to play at the Division I level:

Seniors, Class of ’83: FitzGerald (Idaho State), Machtolf (Stanford), McCanna (Idaho), Ulowetz (Wyoming). Also, John Cippola and Kevin Corbett played at lower-division schools.

Juniors, Class of ’84: Phillips (Idaho), John Pleas (Idaho), Pete Wilkins (Idaho). Mark Scroggins may have played at a lower division.

Sophomores, Class of ’85: David Hawkins (Washington), Joe Mark (Washington), Robb (Notre Dame), Nick Volk (Washington State).

Many of those players and other teammates are bound to share more recollections from 40 years ago when members of the team gather in January for their induction into the Gonzaga Prep Hall of Fame.

Not all memories are positive. Take this low point FitzGerald mentioned from a season-opening loss to Coeur d’Alene, for example:

“Our season opener, we lost to Coeur d’Alene. I don’t have rhyme or reason to that loss other than I dropped a pass that Fred threw in that game that would have either tied the game or put us ahead – I don’t remember which. I’m 57 years old, played in college, was an All-Big Sky player, played in the NFL and I still remember that damn play where I dropped the ball.”

After the loss to Coeur d’Alene, which went on to win the Idaho large-school state championship, Gonzaga Prep rolled through the Greater Spokane League – with one exception, a midseason 14-0 loss to Shadle Park. Two-way starters FitzGerald and Machtolf both missed the game, hospitalized with injuries.

“The Shadle Park loss kind of refocused everybody. We really didn’t know how good we were until after that Shadle game and if you look at the scores, I’ll bet there weren’t a lot of teams that scored many points on us at all,” FitzGerald said. “We really were focused and got down to business. My personal opinion is we could have beat anybody in the country, any high school team.

“We were that focused. That dedicated. We worked together as a team. Everybody liked each other. Great coaching staff. I don’t know what else you could ask for.”

By the time G-Prep reached the playoffs, the team was truly on a roll. First, Kamiakin went down to defeat 40-17, then Walla Walla and Bellarmine Prep were both shut out (19-0 and 16-0, respectively). That left only undefeated South Kitsap, ranked No. 1 in the state and, per Ulowetz’s recollection, No. 4 nationally by USA Today.

McCanna and Robb ran for short touchdowns and the “amazing” Ulowetz-to-FitzGerald touchdown wrapped it up and G-Prep brought home the GSL’s first state championship.

“It was probably one of the most fun, rewarding and awesome times of our lives just because so many people were involved in us succeeding. Not just the team, the coaches but the school, the cheerleaders, the team managers … it just was the most magical season at the end,” Ulowetz said.

“When we were at the Kingdome, it was just unbelievable playing where your NFL idols played. Just made it so special. And the lifelong friendships that we have from Prep there that year; not just the seniors but the sophomores and a lot of juniors, too.

“That year was just magical. It was one of the most fun times of my life.”

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