By: Tadi Abedje
The Gonzaga Eagles defeated the DeMatha Stags in the WCAC Final, 46-43, in a exciting finish. It was a rematch of the triple overtime game these teams played earlier in the year, and it did not disappoint.
During the Stags’ first drive, they drove down the field and scored the first points of the game on a 44-yard touchdown run by running back Marshawn Lloyd. On the other hand, the Eagles went three-and-out and punted on their first possession. DeMatha’s offensive barrage continued on its next possession. Quarterback Eric Najarian threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jermaine Johnson Jr. to extend the Stags lead to 14-0. Just like in their first drive, the Eagles couldn’t convert a first down on third down.
In the second quarter, Najarian ran for a first down on third-and-five. On third-and-15 at the 23, Najarian threw a slant to DeMarco Hellams as he as he got out of a tackle and went into the end zone for six more points to go up 20-0.
At this point, the game looked out of reach for the Eagles. But they began to rally quickly. Quarterback Caleb Williams threw a deep pass down the right sideline to John Marshall, and a pass interference penalty on the Stags came with it. Gonzaga running back Logic Sangwa punched the ball into the end zone to slice DeMatha’s lead to 20-7.
On the Eagles’ next possession, Williams threw a deep touchdown pass to Dean Engram to cut the score to 20-14. The Stags answered back with big plays of their own. Najarian connected with Johnson on a 43-yard pass on third down to Gonzaga’s 21-yard line. A couple plays later, DeMatha reached the end zone on a quarterback sneak by Najarian to increase their lead to 26-14.
In the second half, both Gonzaga and DeMatha went three-and-out on its first drives. But the Eagles pulled a trick out of their hat to score. Gonzaga scores a touchdown on a Philly Special, as Sam Sweeney completed a pass to Caleb Williams to cut the lead to 26-21. The Stags answered back with a 17-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Hellams in double coverage to make it 33-21.
In the fourth quarter, running back Sieh Bangura had a big 29 yard run to the Gonzaga nine, as the Stags used some clock with their lead. DeMatha marched down the field, and kicker Joey Hood nailed a kick to increase the Stags’ lead to 36-21.
But the Eagles struck back with a 25-yard touchdown run by Williams but failed on the two-point attempt. Fortunately for the Eagles, they forced a fumble to gain an extra possession. And the Eagles capitalized on that turnover with a 21-yard touchdown run by Williams to cut the Stags’ lead to 36-33.
Later, Gonzaga’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving its offense a chance to win or tie the game with only 29 seconds left on the clock. Williams took advantage of the time he had and threw a touchdown pass to Sam Sweeney to give Gonzaga its first lead of the game. But, Dominic Logan-Nealy scored on a kickoff return to give the lead back to the Stags.
Just when you thought this game was over for Gonzaga, Williams made you think again with a miraculous Hail Mary touchdown throw to John Marshall to win the game. Gonzaga won its first WCAC title since 2002.
“I was just glad Caleb got it to the end zone. I went up in the air and I got the ball,” said Marshall. “Can’t say much more than that. Thank God.”
Williams, whose birthday was on that day, explained how it all went down. “It just starts from after St. John’s game. We forgot about it and went on. Word of the week is trust and that moment we were down the whole game. That word came out. We all believed in each other, and I believe in this legend (John Marshall) right here number 14. Eighteen to 14 connection best in the nation.”
“Very few people understand how much we’ve sacrificed to be at this place,” head coach Gonzaga head coach Randy Trivers explained. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling to win and win at that fashion. It’s pretty wild. Faith, love and belief is just an amazing feeling. It’s hard to describe.