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Gonzaga Preps rolls past Union to open state

When you rush for more than 1,200 yards in your previous two games, people are going to talk about your offense, and senior quarterback Zach Bonneau and the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups have earned it all.

The offensive juggernaut kept rolling Saturday afternoon against visiting Union in a first-round State 4A playoff football game at Gonzaga Prep, but it was the Bullpups’ defense that earned them the 45-17 victory – shutting out a powerful Titans offense in the second half.

G-Prep (10-1) trailed early while the Union offense rolled to touchdowns on its first two possessions, leading 14-3 early in the second quarter.

But the offense that rolled up more than 1,200 yards in its last two games, and Bonneau, who personally rushed for half that total, were not to be stopped. G-Prep scored twice in the second quarter to take a 17-14 lead only to see the Titans add a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie the score.

“Frankly, I think we came out a little flat to start the game,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said.

Sam Dowd opened the second half with a 38-yard kickoff return to give Bonneau and the offense the ball at the G-Prep 45. Four plays later, halfback Griffin Hare got to the corner on a sweep and raced 33 yards to give the Bullpups the lead for good.

From there the Bullpups’ defense stepped up to stop the Titans on back-to-back drives, forcing Union to punt, then sniffing out a fake punt.

Blitzing cornerback Blair Beschel sacked Union quarterback Nolan Henry on third down on the Titans’ first drive to force a punt.

“That’s (assistant) coach (H.T.) Higgins,” McKenna said. “He has a great feel for the flow of the game and makes great calls.”

The turning point of the game came on the second G-Prep drive. Facing fourth-and-16 at their 20, the Bullpups punted. A hard-charging Union defender ran into Bonneau and the resulting penalty gave the offense new life at the G-Prep 35.

Sixteen plays later, Max Gruber dashed around right end for the score and a two-touchdown lead.

G-Prep added a pair of touchdowns in the final minute. Sophomore Jordan Rathbone scored from 9 yards out on a reverse with 47 seconds left, and junior defensive back Steven Machtolf picked off a Henry pass at the 40 and raced in for a touchdown 25 seconds later.

G-Prep will play sister school Bellarmine Prep in the state quarterfinals next weekend at a site to be determined.

McKenna made no secret of his desire to play that game on the Bullpups’ home field.

“I’m going to fight to get the game right here,” he said.