Gonzaga senior cornerback Jaivon Gibbs is what Coach Aaron Brady calls a “get-it-done” guy. Last season against Georgetown Prep, the Gonzaga coaches instructed Gibbs on the sideline before he went onto the field to be more physical in his man-to-man coverage on fade routes.
Shortly thereafter, Gibbs’s man ran a fade route. He pushed out on the receiver just as he’d been told to do and swatted the ball away. His coaches were thrilled until they saw a penalty flag fly. Gibbs was called for pass interference.
“All we said was, ‘Hey, it’s our fault. You did exactly what we told you to do and got a penalty,’” Brady said. “But that’s the kind of kid he is. Tell him something one time, and he’s got it.”
Gibbs will have help in the form of senior cornerback Devin Butler – who has orally committed to Notre Dame – but the matchups between Gonzaga’s defensive backs and DeMatha’s receiving corps may play a significant role in the contest’s outcome. And that may prove to be a crucial factor in which of these two squads gains home field advantage for the first round of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs.
Gonzaga has won the past three games between the teams, but Brady understands the Eagles will need standout performances from Gibbs and many other players in order to pull off a fourth consecutive victory.
At the beginning of the summer 2011, Gibbs was an incoming junior defensive back that had spent his sophomore season on the junior varsity. One day he approached Gonzaga’s coaches and stated he wanted to be one of the team’s starting cornerbacks, even though both starters from the 2010 season were returning. Undeterred, Gibbs worked his way into the starting lineup by the start of the 2011 season.
“He’s the one kid on our team that hasn’t gotten beat in two years,” Brady said.
Though Gibbs (5-10, 170) has drawn interest from several Ivy League schools, including Princeton, as well as offers from a few less prominent Football Bowl Subdivision programs, he has not garnered the same degree of public attention as Butler.
Saturday, then, will represent an opportunity for Gibbs to demonstrate his skills against Phillips (offers from North Carolina and Virginia) and Jones (offer from Maryland).
Gibbs “doesn’t run a 4.4” 40-yard dash time, Brady said. “But he runs a 4.5 and can play. That’s kind of where he’s at right now.”
With both starting quarterbacks out this week with wrist injuries, Bullis and Landon are preparing to showcase their powerful running backs in Saturday night’s showdown, which for all intents and purposes could determine the Interstate Athletic Conference title.
Bullis lost quarterback Danny Copeland two weeks ago in a win over St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes and have since replaced him with run-first Yusef Muhammad, while Landon has replaced starter Philip Pena (injured in 27-14 win over Woodberry Forest on Oct. 12) with junior Kyle Hartman.
The learning curve has been steep for both Muhammad and Hartman, but the transition has been soothed by terrific talents at running back. Bullis sophomore Devonte Williams has run for 248 yards and three touchdowns the past two weeks, allowing Muhammad, who threw just eight passes in last week’s 29-0 win over St. Albans, the luxury of picking up his own rushing yards on the Bulldogs’ zone reads. Muhammad finished with 71 yards rushing and two touchdowns last week.
Landon will counter the Bullis defense with Hartman, a classic passer who reaped the benefits of running back Myles Allen’s 174 yards and two touchdowns last week. Allen has run for more than 150 yards in three of four games since returning from an early season concussion, and Landon Coach Paul Padalino said Hartman will be handing off to Allen at steady clip on Saturday.
“[Hartman] understands the way we’re going to run the football, we’re going to hope to keep running the football, and we’ve got a great group of backs, led by Myles,” Padalino said. “We have a lot of confidence in what Kyle can bring to the table for us. . . . We think he’s ready to make a play when he need to, to keep drives alive.”
Hartman, who threw just four passes last week in his first career start, said he is plenty aware of the talented Bullis defensive front he will be facing on Saturday. Landon must beat the Bulldogs to have a chance at winning the league title. Power football will be on full display – meaning that the contest could hinge on whatever young quarterback is able to make more plays.
“There’s definitely going to be some pressure. Hopefully, if we can get the running game going, that will help us out,” said Hartman, who maintains that he has prepared like a starter since the season began. “I tried to get as many reps as I could in practice, and make sure I knew what to do, so in case [an injury happened], I could come in and do the job.”