The outcome of a matchup between the Eastside Catholic Crusaders and Gonzaga Prep Bullpups powerhouse football programs came down to one final play in triple overtime.
Gonzaga Prep quarterback Connor Halonen scored on a three-yard touchdown run, cutting Eastside Catholic’s lead to 41-40. Gonzaga Prep head coach David McKenna opted to go for the win courtesy of a two-point conversion attempt, bypassing an extra point that would have forced a fourth overtime session if it split the uprights.
On the play that would decide the outcome of the game, Halonen pitched the ball to Gonzaga senior Devin Culp on an option play. Culp was tackled at the two-yard line by Eastside Catholic defensive backs Ayden Hector and Malik Putney, preserving a 41-40 victory for the Crusaders in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Sept. 2. Bedlam ensued following the final play as the entire Eastside Catholic team made a beeline for the center of the field, celebrating one of the most emotional victories in school history.
Eastside Catholic head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said the defense was ready for Culp on the final play of the night.
“We made an adjustment when we called timeout to be able to handle what we believed the play would be,” Thielbahr said of just before the two-point conversion attempt. “It was our kids getting off blocks and making plays. It was a fantastic ballgame. Hats off to Gonzaga Prep. I’m really glad we’re not playing them anymore. Our guys are so gritty. I’m so proud of them. This is one of the more emotional wins I have had at Eastside Catholic. I’m so happy we were able to get this ‘W’. The guys really deserved it.”
Putney, who made several bone-rattling hits throughout the duration of the contest, was proud of his team following the dramatic triumph in the season opener.
“We trusted the process when we were down,” Putney said. “The coaches preach to us all the time that we got to believe in each other and that is what we did. We just kept pushing each other and the energy was positive on the sideline. When things were going bad, we weren’t getting down on each other. We balled out. We don’t stop from here, we keep going. It is going to be a good season.”
Eastside Catholic sophomore receiver Gee Scott Jr. hauled in a 17-yard touchdown in double overtime and a 10-yard touchdown catch from senior quarterback Zach Lewis in triple overtime to keep his team’s chances for a victory alive.
“We battled hard,” Scott said. “We showed we have more than talent, we have heart and we have the drive. Even when we are tired and even when it is an overtime game.”
Crusaders’ sophomore wide receiver DJ Rogers, who hauled in a perfectly thrown 18-yard touchdown pass from Lewis tying the game at 27-27 with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter, said the victory was a testament to the team’s close-knit bond. Rogers battled fiercely with a Gonzaga Prep defensive back for possession of the ball on the game-tying touchdown.
“I had the ball and just held on for dear life,” Rogers said. “We stuck together and we believed in each other. That is what it came down to in the end. The defense made a great stop. We are brothers and we got each other’s back. We will do anything for each other.”
Lewis credited Scott and Rogers for making big-time plays in pressure-packed situations.
“DJ and Gee bailed me out a few times,” Lewis said. “Our offense is young and we had a lot of guys step up.”
The Crusaders will face Skyview in a non-league contest on Sept. 8 in Vancouver.
“They are a really good team,” Lewis said. “They did a lot of great things last year (Skyview advanced to Class 4A semifinals). It really just takes a lot of film work for us and perfecting our craft. We have to make sure everyone is taking care of their responsibilities. That is the main thing.”