Dave McKenna doesn’t care who believes in his Gonzaga Prep football team.
It only matters that the right people believe, and the Bullpups were believers Thursday as they stunned the No. 2-ranked Mead Panthers 33-27 in a Greater Spokane League matchup between unbeatens before an estimated crowd of 3,000 at Joe Albi Stadium.
“The ones that matter are the ones who are playing,” McKenna said. “That’s who believes right now. It doesn’t bug us. Our kids play hard because it’s about our team and our community at Prep.”
The showdown didn’t lack for drama. The Bullpups (5-0) didn’t secure the win until defensive back Trevor Cote went up high in the back of the end zone for an interception with 3 seconds remaining.
G-Prep scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:37 to go when senior running back Griffin Hare bulldozed in from 3 yards out. The point-after kick was blocked, setting up the possibility for Mead – which trailed most of the game – to pull off a comeback.
But the Bullpups’ defense came up big one last time.
Mistake-prone Mead (4-1) had five turnovers, four in the first half when G-Prep took a 21-12 lead into halftime.
“We just want to play well and we’ve got some things to work on,” Mead coach Sean Carty said. “We’re not out of it. We’ll just keep working.”
Both teams lost key players. G-Prep senior quarterback Zach Bonneau left midway in the first quarter when he was tackled and linebacker Danny Mattingly inadvertently landed on Bonneau’s exposed head. Bonneau had lost his helmet as he was tackled.
Mead lost senior running back Davian Barlow to a high ankle sprain for a second straight year. Barlow had picked up 18 yards and a first down midway in the second quarter. As he got up, he hobbled quickly to the sideline.
G-Prep caught Mead off guard moments after Bonneau left the game. Sophomore quarterback Nick Wood came in and on his first play threw a 25-yard touchdown to Max Gruber to give G-Prep a 14-6 lead.
The Bullpups extended their lead to 21-6 after Mead fumbled the ball just after G-Prep scored its second TD. Hare, taking the snap in the Wildcat formation, dashed 7 yards for the TD.
Mead scored on its first possession of the second half when Austin Stone scored again from a yard out to cut G-Prep’s lead to 21-19.
The special teams play of the game came when G-Prep’s Alex Berry blocked a punt and teammate Chris Szambelan returned it 34 yards for a TD, making the score 27-19 with a second remaining in the third quarter.
“That was a huge play,” McKenna said. “We were in a punt-safe (coverage) and making sure our offense got the ball back. Alex Barry just made a great play. Great individual effort. He was doing what he’s supposed to do – make sure the guy punts and he hit the ball and (Szambelan) scooped it.”