Gonzaga Prep has several ways to beat a team – almost all of them involving handing off the ball to a running back. If an opponent dedicates its entire defense to stopping on option, the Bullpups can turn to a second, or third option just as easy.
Such was the case Friday, when an undersized Sunnyside team put 10 defenders in “the box” in order to take away the G-Prep dive back, junior Nate Moinette. The Gonzaga Prep offensive staff adjusted and turned to wingback Jonah Keller – with an occasional well-timed pass.
Keller carried 16 times for 162 yards with two touchdowns, quarterback Bodie Stafford tossed two touchdown passes and the Bullpups beat the Grizzlies 38-28 in a District 6/8 4A crossover to qualify for the state tournament.
“(Sunnyside) put a lot of people in the box,” Keller said. “We adjusted after the first half. Our O-line did their job, our blockers did their job. Everything just went our way in the second half.”
Gonzaga Prep (9-1), the Greater Spokane League champion, awaits the announcement of its first-round opponent at state when the brackets are released Sunday.
“(Sunnyside) is scrappy and tough,” Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “They cause problems – both offensively and defensively. I’m proud of our kids the way they responded and our coaches to get the adjustments.”
Stafford didn’t throw much; he completed 3 of 6 passes for 34 yards. But when he did, they were for scores – the two second-half touchdowns kept it a two-score game both times.
“We do our best as a team and our coaching staff does a great job to look at what (the opponent) is giving us and what they’re taking away,” Stafford said. “We just take what we can as a team. When the pass is there, we take what we can get.”
“We threw a little bit,” McKenna said. “(Sunnyside) hit some gaps and if we execute, then we might bust one or two of them. We had a couple.”
Moinette finished with 22 carries for 53 yards, with just one carry over 8 yards. Stafford ran just twice but went 52 and 13 yards on the plays.
Sophomore defensive back Jacobe McClelland had an interception and blocked a punt – something for which the G-Prep coaches planned.
“We went over it in practice,” McClelland said. “I had been a returner, but coach McKenna moved me to outside cause he knew I could block one. We planned it the whole week so we knew we could do it.”
Sunnyside (5-5), third place out of the Columbia Basin Big 9, had just one defensive starter listed at more than 200 pounds, but the Bullpups found tough sledding up the middle on their first drive and kicked it away.
Sunnyside took 14 plays, mostly short passes, and went 80 yards for the opening score, a 13-yard pass from Ethan Avalos to Sebastian Magana. The extra point was blocked and the Grizzlies led 6-0 with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
A short Gonzaga Prep drive stalled at the Sunnyside 25 and Matthew Herzog drilled a 42-yard field goal to make it 6-3 on the first play of the second quarter.
Sunnyside drove into G-Prep’s red zone again, but McClelland picked off Avalos at the Bullpups 7. Two plays later Stafford mishandled a snap and fell on it in the end zone for a safety and Sunnyside led 8-3 with 7:47 left in the half.
But that’s when Keller got heated up.
The Bullpups forced a punt and after a first down, Keller took a counter off-tackle, hit a seam and went 61 yards for a touchdown to give Gonzaga Prep its first lead at 10-8 with 5:40 left in the half.
Sunnyside couldn’t move the ball and lined up to punt again. McClelland raced from the right side and smothered the kick, with G-Prep falling on it at the 23. Three plays later, Keller spun into the end zone from 4 yards out and G-Prep led 17-8 at the half.
“It was just big momentum shift,” McClelland said. “It just gave us good territory, and we were able to go score the touchdown.”
Sunnyside went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half and a short punt gave G-Prep the ball at its 49. Keller went 42 yards to the 11, and three plays later Moinette barreled in from the 1 for a 24-8 lead.
The Grizzlies answered with a 10-play drive culminated with an Avalos 5-yard keeper. The 2-point conversion was no good, and G-Prep retained a two-score lead.
Gonzaga Prep went three-and-out and Sunnyside went on another long drive – aided by a pair of encroachment penalties on fourth-and-short – and Avalos hit McNair in stride for a 28-yard touchdown. The extra point failed, and the Bullpups led 24-20 after three quarters.
Gonzaga Prep kept the ball the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter and a 14-play drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown catch by Carson Flynn.
“(Flynn) just made a great play, going up and getting it,” Stafford said. “Our O-line did a great job blocking it. It was a great team play.”
On the next play, Avalos tried to go deep and free safety Jackson Pierce picked it off at speed and took it to the Sunnyside 30. Three plays later, Stafford went deep to Docken who made a one-handed catch at the pylon for a touchdown and 38-20 lead with just under 5 minutes left.
“I just saw one-on-one with the corner,” Stafford said. “I knew I could give (Docken) a jump ball and he could go up and get it clean.”
Avalos finished 35 of 53 for 349 yards. McNair caught 13 passes for 163 yards.