They said all these wins felt the same. Shellacking McNamara and Georgetown Prep and Gilman was just as satisfying, Gonzaga players claimed, as beating DeMatha on the Stags’ home field.
The No. 4 Eagles poured from the bench after Malik Bridgeman’s sack ended No. 1 DeMatha’s desperate yet insufficient rally. They stomped at midfield, slapped hands with the student section and sang Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the locker room.
All wins feel great. Few feel like Friday night’s: Gonzaga Eagles 26, DeMatha Stags 20.
“Nobody was picking us at the beginning of the week,” Bridgeman said. “But we trusted each other. We knew we had it.”
The feeling sprung forth almost immediately. The Eagles (6-1, 2-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) marched 64 yards in nine plays and scored within the first three minutes.
They forced a DeMatha punt, then went 75 yards in 11 plays. Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams hit junior wide receiver John Marshall on a screen pass that resulted in a 26-yard touchdown.
Three plays later, Jason Labbe II intercepted a tipped DeMatha pass and ran it back for a score. Gonzaga led 19-0, and the first quarter wasn’t yet over.
“It was pretty electric,” said Williams, who threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing. “We came out firing.”
That DeMatha (4-2, 0-1 WCAC) wrestled the second and third quarters into a scoreless stalemate was predictable. The Stags’ year-over-year consistency running the ball and playing sound defense has yielded four straight WCAC championships.
Stags players refer to their conference schedule as practically a second season after a series of national — some nationally televised — nonconference games.
Gonzaga knew the Stags’ fourth-quarter push would arrive. When it did, they ran out of time.
Backup quarterback Eric Najarian hit Jermaine Johnson for a 47-yard touchdown with nine minutes to play, then found tight end Anthony Toro for a 22-yard score with 5 minutes left.
Gonzaga fumbled two plays later, and DeMatha finished the ensuing drive with another Najarian touchdown — a 12-yard pass to Dominic Lyles — to pull within seven points. This all came after the Eagles led 26-0 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“I was worried about the team getting complacent,” Gonzaga junior defensive end Joseph Weté said. “We know how good DeMatha is.”
But when the Stags took over with 57 seconds to play at their 36-yard line without a timeout, the Eagles defense was up to the task.
“We were playing fast and playing physical,” Bridgeman said.
He had a crucial quarterback hurry on the drive that forced Najarian to overthrow an end zone-bound target. His sack smothered DeMatha’s comeback and ignited a frenzy on his own sideline.
This win did not feel the same as the others.