With temperatures in the low 30s and snow still being removed during pregame warmups, one might figure that the State 4A first-round matchup between Gonzaga Prep and visiting Eastlake might turn into a defensive struggle.
Reminiscent of an 8-man game, the teams scored early and often with little in the way of defense except for a few crucial turnovers – which went the Bullpups’ way.
Connor Halonen led G-Prep with 253 yards rushing – with three touchdowns on the ground and one through the air – and Jacob Parola returned an early interception for a score, helping the seventh-seeded Bullpups outlast 10th-seeded Eastlake 56-51.
Gonzaga Prep (9-2) advanced to a state quarterfinal game next week against Woodinville.
Halonen has 1,190 yards rushing in his past six games. Zane Melzer added 117 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns for the Bullpups.
G-Prep led 42-17 at halftime and withstood a furious second-half comeback attempt by the Wolves.
“It was crazy,” Halonen said of the scoring pace. “Everyone wants to win at state, so from the start to the very end everyone was in the fight till they had nothing left.”
“It was two very good offenses,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “Coach (Don) Bartel does a great job over there. They’re a very good football team.”
“We didn’t expect anything different,” Bartel said of the pace. “I’m actually shocked, you score 51 points and lose, but that’s kind of the order of the weekend.”
Eastlake QB Grady Robison had 313 yards passing with five TDs and added 153 yards and a score on the ground for the Wolves (8-3).
“I just sit back and watch him,” Bartel said. “He did some spectacular things today.”
“First half was a little rough, but we decided we weren’t going to give up,” Robison said. “The second half we came out and made some things happen. Just fell a little bit short.”
In addition to Parola’s interception, the Bullpups had another pick and recovered two fumbles.
G-Prep’s first possession was a nine-play, 57-yard drive, culminated by Melzer’s 1-yard TD run.
On Eastlake’s second play, Parola hauled in an overthrown pass and went 29 yards for a 14-0 lead.
“I was waiting,” Parola said. “I saw the slant come my way and he overthrew (the receiver), and I just came right to it and got it. It was wide open for the touchdown.”
After an Eastlake field goal, Parola took the kick back to the Eastlake 48. Halonen eventually squirmed his way in from the 6 for a 21-3 lead.
Eastlake drove the field and Garrett Carney scored to make it 21-10 at the end of the first.
On G-Prep’s next drive, facing second-and-goal from the 5, Halonen got to the outside for his second score. Eastlake fumbled the kickoff and G-Prep recovered at the Wolves’ 43. Halonen finished a 13-play drive with a 1-yard plunge for a 35-10 lead.
Robison scored on a 14-yard draw to halve the Wolves’ deficit with 5:21 in the half.
G-Prep churned up chunks of yardage to set up first-and-goal at the 5. With 32.5 seconds left, Halonen tried the left edge and came up favoring a leg. Backup Jake Keyes came in and scored on a 2-yard keeper to make it 42-17 at intermission.
Robison opened the second half with TD passes to Jackson Proctor and Nate Sutter, making it 42-31 early in the third.
G-Prep punted again and Robison picked up about 20 yards on a scramble – but coughed it up. Halonen hit Eric Floyd on a seam route for a 20-yard TD pass and 49-31 lead.
Brendan Kelly picked off Robison to give the Bullpups the ball back at their 44, but Eastlake held.
On its next drive, Robison hit Sutter for a 14-yard TD and the Wolves trailed 49-37.
The Bullpups drove the field and Melzer bullied his way in for a 56-37 lead.
Eastlake was undaunted.
Robison hit Vini Monteiro on a 56-yard scoring strike to make it a 12-point game. After another punt, Robison’s screen pass to Jackson from 7 yards made it a five-point game with 2:29 left.
G-Prep picked up a couple of first downs and Eastlake never got the ball back.