The football came off Gonzaga quarterback Caleb Williams’s fingertips and hung in the air — past the harsh stadium lights at Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium and into the outstretched arms of wide receiver John Marshall in the end zone as time expired.
This was the play the No. 2 Eagles had been waiting for: the WCAC championship-winning, history-making, doubter-silencing play in a 46-43 win over No. 1 DeMatha on Sunday night.
“It was a perfect ball from Caleb, and I just went up there and I got it,” Marshall said. “Thank God.”
Marshall’s acrobatic, 53-yard catch on a Hail Mary from Williams was the final big moment of a wild Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final, a game in which the teams combined for three touchdowns — and three lead changes — in the final 29 seconds.
The grab also clinched Gonzaga’s fourth WCAC title — and its first since 2002.
“It means everything for how hard we worked and the fight that we have in us,” said Williams, who turned 17 on Sunday. “Now it’s about going and celebrating with the boys and my family.”
After digging itself a 20-0 hole early in the first half, Gonzaga (9-3) took its first lead of the night with 29 seconds remaining, at 40-36, on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Sam Sweeney.
Williams found the end zone for three consecutive Gonzaga scores before that one — a nine-yard touchdown catch on a trick play, a 25-yard quarterback keeper and a 21-yard keeper.
DeMatha’s Dominic Logan-Nealy took the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to put the Stags up 43-40 with 15 seconds left. But Williams had one heave left in him.
“At that moment, I just really trusted in our boys and how far I could throw it, really,” he said with a laugh.
The sophomore quarterback threw for three touchdowns, ran for two and caught one.
DeMatha (8-3) was seeking its fifth championship in six years after missing out on the title game last year for the first time since 2011.
The Stags beat Gonzaga, 27-21 in triple overtime, in October, and Gonzaga entered the WCAC playoffs as an underdog after finishing the regular season with a 34-17 loss at home against St. John’s.
But the Eagles upset previously undefeated St. John’s the following week in the semifinals to reach the championship game. Last year, they lost to St. John’s in the final.
“Very few people understand how much we’ve sacrificed to be at this place, and it has been a tremendous amount of work and commitment we put into this,” Gonzaga Coach Randy Trivers said.
St. Mary’s Ryken took home the first football championship in program history by beating Bishop O’Connell, 43-0, in the WCAC Metro Conference title game. Senior running back Jon Wynn had two touchdowns in the first half to carry the Knights to a 36-0 advantage at halftime.
“It’s been a long year waiting to get here,” St. Mary’s Ryken Coach Aaron Brady said. “I think it has created something here that can always be looked back on.”
The title win capped the program’s first playoff run since the inception of the WCAC in 1993. This was the first season the league was split into two divisions — the Capital Conference and the Metro Conference.
The Knights (10-2) have posted a 19-3 record over the past two seasons.