When Gonzaga won eight games by four touchdowns or more last season, it provided Coach Maus Collins with plenty of opportunities to play his reserve players. In yesterday's 40-6 season-opening win against visiting Wilson, many of those reserves became starters, and they made sure that their backups also got some playing time.
Junior running back Nick Ferrante gained 152 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns playing just one half, and senior defensive back Cory Maynard returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter as the Eagles took a commanding 21-point halftime lead and rolled in a nonleague game at Gonzaga's Buchanan Field in Northwest Washington.
Ferrante and Maynard both made their first varsity starts yesterday for Gonzaga, which lost 29 players from last season's team that finished 10-2 and lost to DeMatha in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game. The Eagles have not lost to an opponent other than DeMatha since 1996, when they began the season with consecutive losses to Anacostia and St. Joseph's of Pennsylvania.
"We have a long way to go, but I am happy with our kids," said Collins, who played mostly reserves in the second half. "We made mistakes and we have a few things we need to work on. But I didn't expect us to score this many points. We got better as the game went along. Wilson was undermanned, but they hung tough and made some fine plays."
Wilson, which suffered its only losing season of the decade last year when it finished 4-6, is one of the preseason favorites in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association. The Tigers marched 82 yards on their opening drive behind the arm of senior Avery Bowden, who completed four of his first five passes for 61 yards then crept into the end zone from the three-yard line to give Wilson a 6-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
But Ferrante responded by carrying four times for 40 yards on Gonzaga's first possession before senior Dan Hagan scored on a two-yard quarterback sneak and senior Chris Jordan kicked the extra point to put Gonzaga ahead 7-6. Ferrante's finest run of the day came in the second quarter when, with just under seven minutes remaining before intermission, he found some room up the middle, broke outside, and darted down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run that increased the Eagles' lead to 13-6.
"I have a good offensive line in front of me," said the 5-foot-6, 167-pound Ferrante, who added a one-yard touchdown run later in the second quarter. Matt Uvena and John Costello, both seniors, are returning starters, while most of the other linemen were promoted from backup roles.
Maynard scored his first career touchdown with 44 seconds left in the first half, and senior Conrad Singh returned the second-half kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown that gave Gonzaga a 33-6 advantage.
Notes: Wilson senior Paris Davis (6-0, 310), one of the DCIAA's top linemen who broke a bone in his left foot during preseason practice, will have his cast removed and be evaluated this week. The team is hopeful he can return by midseason.
CAPTION: Gonzaga's Conrad Singh returns kickoff 73 yards for touchdown at start of second half. The Eagles haven't lost to an opponent other than DeMatha since 1996.