For most of the game, Greater Spokane League champion Gonzaga Prep stared at a deficit on the scoreboard.
When Hanford’s Garrett Horner scored on a quarterback sneak with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the third quarter, the Bullpups trailed 24-7 with all the momentum on the visitor’s sideline.
But G-Prep stuck with its game plan, pounding the interior of the defensive line until the Falcons finally gave an inch.
And the Bullpups took it – in the form of a fourth-quarter fumble recovery which opened the floodgates for a comeback.
Connor Halonen hit Zane Melzer on a wheel route for an 8-yard touchdown with 4.5 seconds left and eighth-ranked Gonzaga Prep finished a remarkable comeback, pulling off a 28-24 win over Hanford and advancing to the State 4A playoffs next week.
“Perseverance,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “Proud of ’em. All of ’em.”
The late score capped a 16-play drive which started at G-Prep’s 28 with 3:21 to go.
“We practice (the route) a bunch,” Halonen said. “We tried it once, didn’t work as well in the middle of the field. They were expecting a run on the outside, ’cause we do that all night, and our coaches saw the opportunity to take that.”
The crucial turnover, which came after G-Prep (8-2) scored to make it a 10-point game with 6:52 left, was the difference.
“Huge,” McKenna said. “You know, we create turnovers. (Hanford) had the ball on the turf a couple of times and we didn’t get it, so I knew we were going to get one. And we got it.”
Melzer scored on a 17-yard run to make it 24-14. On the next play, Hanford’s Dylan McElderry coughed it up and G-Prep’s Daniel McKiernan recovered at the Falcons’ 44.
“I think that might have changed the game completely,” Halonen said. “We were starting to cruise on momentum, but we knew the time was getting short, so that fumble recovery really did turn the tables for us.”
Halonen went for 16 yards to the Hanford 28. On the next play, Jacob Parola took it up the middle for a touchdown, drawing the Bullpups within three with 6:24 to go.
“We knew we were going to score,” Melzer said. “Everybody was excited. We knew we were going to win right when we got that fumble.
“We knew we were going to win.”
Halonen gave praise to his coaching staff for not panicking when the Bullpups were down big.
“I think we really rallied together, though, and made the most of our opportunities,” he said. “That was some power football we played, and it really paid off.”
Halonen finished with 122 yards rushing, Parola had 105 and Melzer added 90.
“Hanford’s a very good football team,” McKenna said. “Just proud of the kids. No quit. The coaches, the players, all rallied together. Great feeling.”
Halonen’s first carry of the game went for 20 yards. Later in the drive, Eric Floyd took a pitch 22 yards down to the Hanford 13. Two plays later, Melzer pounded it in from the 4 for an early 7-0 lead.
Hanford (6-4) answered with a long drive. Horner connected with Mason Ciolli on a crossing route for 17 yards out near midfield, then hit Luke Sutey on a fade from 19 yards to tie it.
Late in the quarter and up 10-7, Horner hit Kaden Lee for 19 yards down to the 5 with 40.5 seconds in the half.
On fourth-and-goal from the 6, receiver Gabe Martinez lined up crouched behind the guard, took an inside handoff and shook off a tackler for a touchdown. Hanford led 17-7 at the half.
Hanford went on another long drive in the third quarter. On second-and-goal from the 1, Horner took it himself and put the Falcons up 24-7 with 1:14 left in the third.
G-Prep wasn’t finished, though. It was just getting started.
“We knew we could do it,” Melzer said. “We saw 6 minutes on the clock and went out and did it. Played as a team and played great.”
Just like they drew it up.
District 8 crossovers
Mead 35, Richland 21: Ryan Blair threw three touchdown passes and the GSL No. 2 seed Panthers (7-3) beat the MCC No. 2 seed Bombers (7-3) at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.
Blair hooked up with Michael Workman for touchdown receptions of 34 and 9 yards, and hit Ryan Chan for a 6-yard score. Isaiah Saldana had two first-quarter touchdown run for the Panthers.
Richland’s Josh Fonner had two touchdown passes, including a 65-yard strike to Cody Sanderson, who added a 2-yard rushing touchdown.
Chiawana 31, Lewis and Clark 14: AJ Vongphachanh scored on a 35-yard run with 1:22 remaining and the MCC champion Riverhawks (7-2) outlasted the GSL No. 3 Tigers (7-3) at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.
Preston Vine hit Bennie Alferness for a 51-yard TD to start the scoring and Gabe Schilz’s 38-yard run made it 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
Chiawana is ranked No. 10 in state.