After junior quarterback Chris Schultz completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Brady Malone, the Eagles turned to the sideline. There, Coach Aaron Brady stood with his hand raised. Gonzaga was going for two.
Gonzaga had matched the touchdown that DeMatha had scored on the first possession of overtime. Now, an entire season rode on a single play as the Eagles attempted to edge the Stags with a two-point conversion.
Schultz stepped back in the pocket, looked to the left pylon and found a familiar target. In a flash, Malone made the catch, and the Gonzaga student section commenced its second field-storming in as many weeks.
Coach Brady was confident that his team could deliver on the game-deciding two-point conversion. “Every day in the summer, we finished practice with that play,” said Coach Brady.
“We call it ‘the touchdown play,’” said Schultz. “When it’s one-on-one against the cornerback on the outside, with a guy like Brady [Malone], we know we have a good match-up.”
In their first playoff game in nine years on Buchanan Field, the Eagles struck first as Schultz connected with classmate Paris Person for a 26-yard touchdown pass on Gonzaga’s first possession of the game. But Gonzaga suffered its first of two blocked extra-point attempts and had to settle for a 6-0 lead.
Gonzaga’s early lead would be its only one of regulation. DeMatha responded with a long drive that culminated in a 2-yd touchdown run. With the point after, the Stags edged ahead, 7-6, with 2:44 left in the 1st quarter.
More than five minutes into the 2nd quarter, DeMatha picked off a Schultz pass at midfield. The interception set up a 10-yard touchdown pass with 3:34 left in the half.
On its next possession, DeMatha seized on another offensive opportunity. Converting on a 27-yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the half, the Stags carried a 17-6 lead into the
“We didn’t expect to be down 17-6 at halftime. We really didn’t play that badly,” said Coach Brady.
The Eagles opened the half with a 60-yard touchdown drive. Junior tight end Scott Carpenter caught an 8-yard pass from Schultz to give Gonzaga six more points. But another shallow PAT attempt left the Eagles down by five.
DeMatha looked to match Gonzaga’s touchdown as the Stags marched down the field on the ensuing drive to earn a 1st and goal opportunity. But the Eagles stopped the Stags three yards short of the goal line, and DeMatha elected to kick a short field goal with 2:09 left in the quarter to make it 20-12.
On the next possession, Gonzaga’s fortunes seemed to take a turn for the worse as DeMatha intercepted ball on the Eagles’ 29-yd line with 1:51 left in the quarter. But solid Gonzaga defense forced DeMatha to attempt a long field goal early in the 4th. The high DeMatha kick landed well short of the end line. Gonzaga sophomore Matt Flynn made a heads-up play, scooping up the ball at Gonzaga’s four yard line for a thirty yard run.
After a 50-yard punt and unsuccessful DeMatha drive, Gonzaga received its final opportunity to tie the game with less than five minutes left in regulation. Midway through the drive, the season appeared lost as Gonzaga failed to convert on 4th down and Schultz went down on the play. But a defensive holding penalty gave the Eagles the 1st down, and Schultz
returned to action after a brief respite on the sideline.
“I got the wind knocked out of me a little bit,” said Schultz, “so I just needed a couple of seconds to get my breath back.”
Schultz completed the drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Devin Butler, and senior Davon Graves snagged a 2-point conversion pass to knot the score at 20-20 with 2:05 left in the 4th. Graves led the Eagles with 51 receiving yards on the day.
DeMatha had one last chance to put Gonzaga away in regulation as the Stags crept within range of a long field goal attempt. But time expired before DeMatha could execute its kick.
In overtime, DeMatha scored first, pounding the ball in for a short rushing touchdown and a 27-20 lead. But the Eagles rose to the challenge of their do-or-die possession as Schultz completed all three of his passes for 26 yards. Brady Malone
made his third and fourth receptions of the game in the final two plays as the Eagles advanced to the WCAC finals.
The WCAC finals berth is Gonzaga’s first in seven years. With the win, the Eagles break a seven-year streak of DeMatha-Good Counsel finals.
“To be the first team to go to the finals in seven years, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Schultz. “It’s been our goal since day one to get back to Navy.”
Next Saturday, November 19, Gonzaga will meet undefeated Good Counsel, who won in a 47-7 rout of St. John’s on Friday, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The Eagles’ last loss came at the hands of the Falcons seven weeks ago. Since then, however, Gonzaga has gained six consecutive wins and plenty of confidence.
“I think we get better and better every week,” said Schultz.
“We can play against anybody right now,” said Brady.