What makes this Gonzaga Prep team so strong, according to coach Dave McKenna, is its well-rounded nature – its ability to win games in a variety of ways.
“It’s our offense one week and then it’s our defense and special teams the next,” McKenna said. “That’s just who we are.”
On Saturday, in a State 4A first-round game against visiting Chiawana, all three phases contributed significantly for Gonzaga Prep.
The Bullpups got a first-half spark from their special-teams unit, which scored a touchdown on a blocked punt. G-Prep took control in the third quarter with two long scoring drives, then added a defensive TD to put away the Riverhawks.
Eighth-seeded G-Prep is moving on to the quarterfinal round after scoring a 24-14 victory over No. 9 seed Chiawana on a gusty, bitter afternoon at Bullpup Stadium.
“It’s a gritty group of kids, and that’s what I love about them,” McKenna said. “It’s a special group. … It’s great to get another week with these guys.”
The Bullpups (10-1) swiped the momentum midway through the second quarter with a special-teams highlight.
G-Prep’s defense forced a three-and-out, and Chiawana was forced to punt from deep within its territory.
G-Prep linebacker Luke Hills came free off the edge and swatted the punt into the turf. Teammate Jacobe McClelland was there to collect the ball and race 5 yards for a TD, putting the Bullpups ahead 7-6.
“That was huge,” McKenna said. “Sometimes, that’s what you gotta do to win (playoff) games.”
The Bullpups’ offense finally broke through on its first drive of the third quarter after a defensive battle in the first half. G-Prep ran several plays on the possession and converted three third-and-long tries – including a diving, one-handed reception for 35 yards from Isaiah Docken on a third-and-10. Tailback Nate Moinette finished the drive with a 1-yard TD rush.
Bullpups kicker Matthew Herzog hit a 22-yard field goal on G-Prep’s ensuing possession to make it 17-6.
“(The offense) figured it out a little bit,” McKenna said. “Different guys were making plays and the (offensive line) started clicking.”
The Riverhawks took over in desperate need of a response. Instead, the Bullpups’ defense all but sealed the game.
Linebacker Will Jackson laid a hard hit on Chiawana quarterback Julian Martinez, knocking the ball loose. G-Prep edge rusher Hugues Niyonyishu scooped it up and broke free into open field for a 30-yard touchdown.
“I saw green grass in front of me, nobody was behind me, and I had my boys with me to take it to the house,” Niyonyishu said.
Chiawana answered with a touchdown drive, then marched into the red zone on its next possession. But Niyonyishu had a sack on third down in the red zone, and the Riverhawks turned it over on downs.
G-Prep’s defense was impressive throughout the day, recording several sacks and putting constant pressure on Martinez.
“We knew how physical Chiawana was going to be, and we knew exactly what type of game we were coming into,” Niyonyishu said. “We were able to handle it and control the line of scrimmage.”
The Bullpups’ offense played a complementary game, totaling 199 rushing yards on 43 carries. Jonah Keller led the way with 100 rushing yards while Moinette had 72 yards.
Quarterback Bodie Stafford completed 4 of 7 passes for 57 yards, and Docken had three catches for 48 yards.
Martinez went 13 of 30 for 147 yards. Chiawana tailback Braxton Feldmann had 101 rushing yards. But the Riverhawks’ offense struggled to sustain drives, going three-and-out three times and committing two turnovers on downs.
“The defense played lights out,” McKenna said. “We talk about, ‘11 hats to the ball,’ all the time, and that’s what we did today.”
The Bullpups advance to face top-seeded Graham-Kapowsin next week in the state quarterfinals.
Game details will be announced Sunday.