Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna was confident the run-heavy Bullpups could pile up yards against against Hanford’s defense.
They did, churning out 471 yards on the ground in a 50-36 victory against the visiting Falcons in a District 8 4A playoff game Friday.
But against a Hanford (6-4) team that featured Easton Wise-Hyde, the Mid-Columbia Conference’s leading passer, turning stops into points would be the key to advancing to the state quarterfinals.
The Bullpups (7-2) did that, too.
Gonzaga Prep, the No. 1 seed out of the Greater Spokane League, turned a bobbled Hanford punt attempt deep in its territory into an eventual Jaden Ortega touchdown run in the second quarter.
Daniel McKeirnan’s interception later the second quarter set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Robert Collier Jr., giving the Bullpups a 28-14 lead at halftime.
G-Prep scored on its opening third-quarter drive – capped by another Ortega touchdown run – giving the Bullpups a 36-14 cushion after a 2-point conversion. That helped provide enough of a cushion to hold off Hanford.
“That was unbelievable,” McKenna said. “We were having a hard time stopping them. (Hanford is) the No. 1 offense in the Mid-Columbia Conference for a reason. Our kids were tough and resilient.”
Collier rushed for four touchdowns, his 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter helping the clock-eating Bulldogs put away the Falcons.
“We expected to run down their throat the whole game and drain the clock,” said Collier, the Bullpups’ sophomore running back.
Ortega totaled 164 yards with two touchdowns on 30 carries and quarterback Ryan McKenna, the coach’s son, had 165 yards on 22 carries – including a 46-yard touchdown. He passed twice.
While G-Prep went on long, methodical drives, the Falcons did their damage with big plays over the top of the Bullpups’ defense.
Wise-Hyde completed 16 of 35 passes for 294 yards with four touchdowns and an interception – including touchdown connections of 52 and 40 yards.
The Falcons scored on back-to-back drives late in the third quarter to make it a 43-36 contest, the latter a 28-yard pass to Caleb Harvey.
But after Collier answered with his final touchdown of the night on the Bullpups’ subsequent drive early in the fourth quarter, G-Prep’s defense stepped up.
Hanford was nearing the red zone, looking to cut their deficit to a single possession. But the Falcons faced a fourth-and-18 scenario and surrendered on downs.
G-Prep ran out the final 7 minutes to preserve the win.
“For our kids to muster and get that stop, that was huge,” McKenna said.
“It was really great. It just really brought our energy up,” he said.
Cayden Kerr added 56 yards on three carries for G-Prep, which finds out its quarterfinal opponent next week when the state brackets are released.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.