As in most seasons, the top of the Greater Spokane League 4A standings is a convoluted mess. Unlike the recent few seasons, though, there’s a difference in the pecking order – at least through the first six weeks of the season.
With Lewis and Clark – ranked No. 7 in state 4A – and Mead already at 2-0 in the league, Friday night’s matchup between Central Valley and Gonzaga Prep took on a renewed sense of urgency.
For the Bears – upended by LC earlier in the season – and the Bullpups, it had the feel of a “must-win” game on the first weekend in October just to keep up with the others.
The Pups – and specifically Connor Halonen – more than answered the call, and perhaps quieted critics implying they were on a down year.
Led by Halonen’s 232 rushing yards and five touchdowns, Gonzaga Prep handled visiting Central Valley 35-6 to move to 2-0 in league and send the Bears to 0-2.
Prep (4-2 overall) rushed for 429 yards, while limiting Central Valley (3-3) to 251 total.
CV quarterback Matt Gabbert went 12 of 31 for 143 yards and two interceptions.
“I’m very proud of our kids,” Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “Our kids battled. We talked about courage and they played with a lot of courage tonight.”
McKenna didn’t hesitate to explain how much of a difference Halonen makes for his offense.
“He’s a special kid,” McKenna said “He’s a great leader on and off the field. Told him to just have some fun. He had some fun tonight.”
Asked what was working, Halonen replied just about anything they wanted.
“We knew we had the offense,” he said. “We were able to expose what they couldn’t stop.”
The team leader deflected praise for himself and redirected it toward his teammates.
“Our o-line did an amazing job” he said. “They stepped up completely from last week. We had a new energy.”
And now that Prep has pulled even in the league standings, Halonen thinks his team is trending up.
“This was our best game we’ve played all year,” he explained. “And I think it was one of the most important games we’ve played all year.”
Prep’s first drive stalled at the 50 and on the punt attempt the snap went past quarterback/punter Halonen, where he recovered at the 21 to set up the Bears.
Gabbert hit Hunter Chodorowski for an 11-yard pickup, then the bruising fullback carried it three straight plays, the last a two-yard dive for a touchdown. The extra point was no good and CV held an early 6-0 lead.
After trading punts, the Bullpups took over at their 22 late in the first quarter. Halonen connected with Cayden Kerr along the sideline for a 19-yard gain and after a timeout, a defensive holding penalty put the Pups at the CV 45.
Halonen called his own number and burst through the line, then cut to the outside and sprinted down the sideline the distance for the score. The extra point gave G-Prep a one-point lead with just over 9 minutes left in the half.
Neither team could sustain anything more until the final possession of the half.
CV’s Carsen Rabb pinned Prep at its 3 with a 39-yard punt. Kamau Pasadaba took the first play up the middle for 13 yards and Jacob Parola’s 11-yard carry took the Pups out to their 44. G-Prep moved into CV territory as time was winding down in the half.
With 49.2 seconds left, another defensive holding penalty gave Gonzaga Prep the ball at the CV 31. Halonen twice tried to find receivers in the end zone, but was unable to connect and the Pups led 7-6 at intermission.
CV was forced to punt on its first possession of the second half, but the snap was botched and Prep recovered at the Bears’ 24.
A false start penalty gave Prep a third-and 8 at the 22, and Halonen escaped containment in the backfield, cut to the outside, and went the distance for a touchdown and upped the Prep advantage to 14-6.
The Bears got something going on three consecutive rushes by Chodorowski, but with second-and-10 at the Prep 34, Gabbert’s long pass attempts was intercepted at the 4 by Braeden Young.
Halonen broke off runs on 17 and 20 yards to move the ball out to midfield, and a 13-yard run by Pasadaba put the ball at CV’s 27. Halonen gained 6 on third-and-5, then slipped a tackle and went 17 yards for a touchdown to compete a 14-play, 96-yard drive and build a 21-6 lead with 2:15 in the third.
CV went three-and-out and Prep went back to work at its 37.
Halonen took it 15 yards to the other 43, Justyse White carried 13 yards on a sweep and Perola took it to the 15 on an 8-yard dive. Halonen bounced the next carry outside, bounced off a defender and into the end zone to make it 28-6 with 9:32 left.
Daniel Siwinski’s interception at the CV 40 with 4:34 left sealed it.