Randall Cunningham II entered the 2013 high school football season under a big microscope.
The Bishop Gorman senior has a famous last name, and would start at quarterback following Anu Solomon, who compiled a 57-3 record as a starter, leading the Gaels to four-straight state titles.
On the field where his father made several big plays for UNLV, Cunningham II shined, running for four touchdowns and throwing for another as Bishop Gorman topped Reed 48-14 in the NIAA D-I state championship game.
“It feels great to finish the year the right way,” he said.
“For him to end his season in the fashion that he did, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez said.
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Cunningham dashed the Reed defense the most on zone-read runs where he decided to keep the football. Sanchez said that was the game plan entering the game, attacking the edges of Reed’s defense, a strategy devised after looking at their previous matchups with Reed the past couple of years.
“On the way over to the game, I told the coaches, ‘we’ve got to find one play that works and keep calling it,’ “ he said. “We found that and just leaned on it all day.”
Cunningham’s first TD capped off Gorman’s first offensive drive of the game, a 12-yard touchdown that answered a Reed quick strike to open the game, as senior quarterback Chris Denn fired a pass to senior wide receiver Trae Wells. Late in the first quarter, Cunningham scored from 23 yards out, the second of six unanswered touchdowns for the Gaels.
Reed remained in striking distance to start the third quarter, down 21-7 and with the ball after a Gorman fumble.
The next set of big plays decided the game.
Denn connected with a streaking Jake Lehmann. The Reed senior wide receiver looked poised to score and cut the deficit down to a touchdown, but Gorman senior free safety Armand Perry tracked him down from behind, swiping at his legs for a touchdown-saving tackle.
Gorman’s defense held, and on the fourth down, Reed decided to go for a field goal. Gorman senior cornerback Dylan Weldon had one thing in mind.
“In practice, I always get super close to blocking field goals. In a game, I’ve never even gotten close,” he said. “I just decided that I got to get it. I’ve got to get a blocked field goal on my resume.”
The offense took over, and Cunningham rushed for 28-yard score. On Reed’s next possession, Gorman senior cornerback/running back Daniel Stewart caught a deflection and ran it back for a touchdown (his second, adding to a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter).
Instead of 21-14, the game was now 34-7.
“At that point, their back was against the wall, so we knew they were going to have to load the box,” Sanchez said.
After a defensive stand, Cunningham connected with senior wide receiver Riley Hoff on a 28-yard touchdown-pass play. It was the third Gorman score in a 91-second stretch.
“It changed the whole dynamics of the game,” Sanchez said.
Cunningham finished with 213 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 23 carries. He went 9-of-11 for 111 yards and a touchdown through the air.
With the win, Gorman becomes the first large-school program to win five-straight state championships since Reno High School did it from 1924-1928.
“In a couple days, I’m going to wake up and realize that we dominated the state of Nevada for five years in a row now,” Weldon said. “Hopefully, my younger brothers can continue on with the legacy.”
“It makes you nervous cause you’re going to try and do it again,” Sanchez said. “At the end of day, we’re going to have to show back up in January, get back in that weight room and try to go 1-0 again.”
STORY AND VIDEO BY BARRY WONG