After traveling to California and pulling out an emotional 34-31 double overtime victory over perennial prep powerhouse Santa Margarita last weekend, it wasn’t surprising Bishop Gorman came out a bit flat for Friday night’s game against Encino (Calif.) Crespi.
It was something that Gaels head coach Tony Sanchez said he could sense in warm-ups.
“Sometimes you don’t have the same pizzazz,” Sanchez said. “You’re grabbing them and you’re begging them to let’s go. Sometimes that’s part of youth. You sit there and think that you’re going to be okay, and you’re not. Not when you’re playing the quality of teams we’re playing.”
But the Gaels (3-1), who opened the game with a safety and on a high snap over quarterback Randall Cunningham’s head and followed that up with an interception on their next possession, were simply too big and strong for the Celts (1-2) and eventually grounded out a 42-9 victory at Fertitta Field.
“It’s a win,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think it’s the prettiest win we’ve ever had but we’re getting better.”
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When push came to shove, the Gaels decided to just run it right at Crespi, using basic power and counter plays behind the blocking of senior tackle Nick Gates and center Zack Singer mixed in with a little scrambling and passing by Cunningham.
Despite the slow start, Gorman finished with 515 yards in total offense, including 392 yards rushing. Senior halfback Daniel Stewart led the way with 119 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries but junior Russell Booze also had a big night off the bench with a game-high 173 yards on seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half that made it 21-2.
“Booze jumped up on the scene,” Sanchez said. “It was a big night for him. (Stewart), we already know that he’s a special player. But to have that burden taken off of him in the second half was good.”
Two plays after Booze’s big run, cornerback Dylan Weldon intercepted a Connor McMahon pass and returned it to the Crespi 15. Cunningham then connected with tight end Alize Jones (4 catches for 56 yards, 1 TD) in the right flat for a 9-yard touchdown pass, and the rout was on.
“We came in at halftime and we said to heck with all the fancy stuff,” Sanchez said. “We said we’re going to run the power and the counter, and if they stopped it then they’re going to win the game because it’s on you guys.”
The Gaels defense, which knocked Crespi starting quarterback Weston Massett out of the game with a dislocated left elbow midway through the first quarter, also stepped up big after halftime. After Weldon’s interception, Gorman forced three straight three-and-outs. The Celtics finally broke through with a 80-yard, 10-play drive against the reserves midway though the fourth quarter capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jalen Starks for the final score of the night.
Cunningham had another solid game, completing 9-of-16 passes for 123 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also rushed seven times for 50 more yards.
There’s no break in the schedule for the Gaels who next travel cross-country to face one of the premier programs on the east coast, Bergen Catholic of Oradell, N.J. The Crusaders defeated Gorman, 42-35, last year in Las Vegas.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Sanchez said. “That’s the thing about our schedule. What’s it been, four weeks against some really tough teams? And the hardest thing is consistently maintaining that level of energy. It’s similar to college football. You’ve got to get ready to go.”
VIDEO and photo by Barry Wong