Down 17-6 at halftime and struggling to assemble any momentum, Gonzaga QB Nick Johns appraoched his defense with a simple message. “I told them that they wouldn’t give up a point in the second half,” said the University of Virginia commit after the game.
In the second half, the Cadets of St. John’s did not score, and Johns backed up his words with solid play of his own.
In front of a packed, standing-room-only crowd at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, the frigid weather and prime time lights provided a two-and-a-half hour battle between two of the areas top teams. Playoff spots for both teams were at stake. If St. John’s won, a three-way tiebreaker including Gonzaga and McNamara would have determined which two teams would join DeMatha and Good Counsel. In opposition, if Gonzaga won, they would claim the third seed and eliminate St. John’s.
And on Saturday night, a tale of two halves provided fans with the never-ending entertainment that has given the WCAC its reputation over the years.
After a field goal by Brian Johnson put Gonzaga up 3-0 with just over three minutes left in the opening quarter, St. John’s drove the field and answered right back. Future Wake Forest Demon Deacon Scotty Washington caught his first of two touchdowns on the night from Talik Mann with 1:37 remaining before the second quarter, giving his team a 7-3 lead.
Early in the second quarter, the Eagles faced more trouble. Following an unsuccessful 4th and 13 attempt, Gonzaga forced the Cadets to punt, but a roughing the kicker call negated the play, giving the ball back to St. John’s inside Gonzaga’s 35. A few plays later, Mann found Washington once again, this time for 27 yards, to increase the lead to 14-3 with 7:42 before the half. An exchange of field goals followed, and at the half, the Cadets led 17-6.
The second half was highlighted by Gonzaga, who played with heavy hearts following the funeral of schoolmate and senior Dominik Pettey, who passed away in a car accident last week. Their motto has been to “Do it for Dom,” the name they commonly referred to him by. With white shirts worn by the students with the number 11 (Dominik’s hockey jersey number) and his last name, the Eagles managed to carry the memory of their fallen brother and reshaped the next 24 minutes.
Nearly five minutes into the second half, the Eagles finally found some momentum. Tyree Randolph rushed for a 20 yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-13. A brief three-and-out from the Cadets-including a drive-stopping sack by Nate Hiligh gave the Eagles new life going into the last 12 minutes.
Although it looked promising, a long drive for Gonzaga stopped just short of a score. Johns found Jabari Greenwood and utilized Randolph and Reggie Corbin in the backfield, but the Eagles could not score on St. John’s 1-yard line with 5:40 to go before the conclusion of the game. However, the Cadets did not manage anything on offense and gave Gonzaga new life.
Following a long pass along the sideline from Johns to Corbin, the Eagles easily punched the ball into the endzone. Randolph ran it in from two yards out, giving the Eagles a 20-17 lead, the first of the game and what would prove to be the final score, as they eliminated rival St. John’s (6-4) from postseason contention and clinched the third seed in the WCAC playoffs.
WCAC Playoff Picture:
Next Sunday, November 16, the #3 Gonzaga Eagles will play the #2 DeMatha Stags at noon at Naval Corps Memorial Stadium. Following that, at 4pm, Good Counsel will play McNamara, who made the playoffs following a blowout win against O’Connell.
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