Gonzaga pulls of upset against St. John’s in WCAC Semifinals

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The Gonzaga Eagles celebrating their 24-14 win against the St. John’s Cadets. Gonzaga will play DeMatha in the finals next week. Photo courtesy of Tadi Abedje.
The Gonzaga Eagles celebrating their 24-14 win against the St. John’s Cadets. Gonzaga will play DeMatha in the finals next week. Photo courtesy of Tadi Abedje.

By: Tadi Abedje

St John’s cruised to victory against Gonzaga during the last game of the regular season. But Gonzaga avenged that loss with a 24-14 win against St. John’s in the WCAC Semifinals.

The game started slow for both teams. After the Eagles picked up a first down during their opening drive, they went three-and-out. The Cadets played stifling defense, but their offense couldn’t capitalize. St John’s fumbled during its opening drive, which led to a Gonzaga field goal.

Both teams continued to experience offensive woes in the second quarter, too. The Cadets attempted a bubble screen on third-and-seven but failed to convert. Meanwhile, the Eagles made a few big plays on offense. Eagles quarterback Connor Williams completed a deep pass toward the left sideline to John Marshall for 19 yards. Also, Williams ran for a first down on fourth-and-one at the Cadets’ 35-yard line.

Moments later, Williams completed a fourth-and-long pass to Aaron Turner on a crossing route for a first down. Unfortunately for the Eagles, though, their offensive spark quickly fizzled out.   

Cadets defensive back Quinten Johnson forced a fumble and returned it for a 95-yard touchdown to give the Cadets a 6-3 lead. Indeed, that was a momentum shifter. The Eagles couldn’t get any points on the next drive. It also didn’t help that Gonzaga used all three of its timeouts in first half.

During the early stages of the second half, the Cadets moved the ball well. Quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava threw a pass to Johnson to pick up a first down on third-and-10. But Gonzaga eventually forced St. John’s to punt the ball.

When Gonzaga gained possession, it’s offense began to click on all cylinders. Williams launched a 39-yard pass to receiver John Marshall, which put the Eagles deep inside the red zone. A few plays later, Williams ran for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 10-6.

The Cadets couldn’t answer back during their next possession, which was a three-and-out. Then, Dean Engram registered a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown to increase Gonzaga’s lead to 17-6.

In the fourth quarter, Gonzaga milked over five minutes off the clock. When St. John’s regained possession, it’s offense moved the ball with success. And Maiava capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Rakim Jarrett. Maiava and Jarrett hooked up again on a two-point conversion to slice the lead to 17-14.  

The Cadets forced a three-and-out to get the ball back. However, as they went down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown, Gonzaga forced a fumble and returned it 95 yards to the end zone. At that point, the score was 24-14.

“They executed their plan and we didn’t execute ours. When we woke up and tried to execute our plan, it went alright. In the end, we didn’t have enough. We’re at the five and we didn’t get it in,” said Cadets head coach Joe Casamento.

On the other hand, things went well for the Eagles, according to head coach Randy Trivers. “I thought special teams played real well in terms of being able to be perfect on our PAT attempts and field goal,” Trivers said.

“I thought we had the big punt return for a touchdown, which was a huge play after a penalty. We also played really well offensively in terms of time of possession and number of plays we were able to run. Defensively, we held a very explosive team to a very small amount of points for that team. It was a good day for us.”

Gonzaga advances to the Final next week against DeMatha. Trivers expects it to be another hard-fought game.