With District 8 4A receiving just two allocations to the state football tournament this season, every league loss is going to loom huge in the standings.
On Friday, two of the teams that figure to be in the race to earn the Greater Spokane League’s two seeds to the crossover games against the Mid-Columbia Conference met to start sorting things out.
But with Mead two-way star Caleb Shawen out with an injury, the matchup took on a different complexion than it could have, and Gonzaga Prep took full advantage, using its punishing ground attack – and some breakaway speed from its emerging sophomore quarterback.
In the end, quarterback Ryan McKenna carried 18 times for 147 yards with touchdown runs of 76 and 22 yards and G-Prep topped visiting Mead 31-7 to remain unbeaten in league play.
The game was delayed a half hour at the start due to lightning and thunderstorms that rolled through the area.
The Bullpups rolled up 328 yards on the ground.
“Every win’s big,” G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “The GSL is always tough, so every win’s big.”
Ryan McKenna had been splitting time with senior Jake Keyes for the Bullpups (4-1, 2-0) in their first few games, but went the distance in this one.
“You know, it’s our team,” McKenna said of the competition. “Jake Keyes and I have bonded over the past few weeks. Just getting to know him and you know, he’s a great kid. And it’s our team. It’s definitely our team.”
“(Ryan McKenna) did a great job and again it starts with the guys up front,” Dave McKenna said. “I told them before the game: ‘Five guys up front, it’s a team thing. So just do what you’re coached to do and good things will happen.’ ”
Shawen willed his team to a win over Mt. Spokane in the Battle of the Bell last week, but he injured his right shoulder in the process and was in street clothes for the Panthers (3-2, 1-1).
“We were missing some guys,” Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen said. “But, you know, I thought we played them the best that we played since I’ve been here.
“Our guys rallied behind our other players that were in there.”
Nick Terrill, listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, carried 26 times for 144 yards for Mead.
“(Shawen) is a big part of their offense,” McKenna said, “and they do a great job with him. They’re a good football team, very good football team. And so to come out on top was big for us.”
Mead had no trouble moving the ball on its first possession, but on fourth-and-6 at the G-Prep 27, a screen pass went incomplete and the Bullpups took over on downs.
G-Prep marched down the field, as Jaden Ortega rumbled for 11 on a third-and-2 play and Chase Becker picked up 14 on a sweep on third down, giving the Bullpups a first-and-goal at the 9.
Two plays later, Robert Collier Jr. went off-tackle from the 2 for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Panthers featured Terrill on the next drive, and he gained 6 yards on three consecutive plays to get Mead into G-Prep territory again. But a sack killed the momentum and the Panthers were forced to punt at the Bullpups’ 39. It carried into the end zone for a touchback.
G-Prep ground out a 16-play drive covering 64 yards, but McKenna’s pass intended for Cayden Kerr on third-and-9 at the 16 fell incomplete and the Bullpups settled for a 33-yard field goal by Carson Valley to go up 10-0 with 10:01 left in the half.
That’s when the offense for both teams dried up for the half. When Ryan Blair’s Hail Mary from the G-Prep 36 sailed out of bounds as time expired, the Bullpups carried their 10-point lead to the lockers.
Blair finished 9 of 20 for 66 yards.
On the second play of the second half, McKenna burst through the Mead defensive line and sprinted 76 yards untouched, putting G-Prep up 17-0.
“The the hole was wide open – offensive line blocked it wonderfully,” Ryan McKenna said. “Our wings did a great job and it was wide open. I was not even close to being touched. Our offensive line did unreal.”
The Mead offense responded. Terrill took a screen for 20 yards and a personal foul on G-Prep moved it to the 11. On second-and-2 at the 3, Terrill bulled his way into the end zone to get Mead on the board with 8:15 left in the third.
Mead forced G-Prep into a quick punt and had good field position at its 39, but it went nowhere and had to kick it back.
G-Prep took advantage. Aided by two personal foul calls against the Mead defense, the Bullpups had first-and-10 at the Panthers’ 29. McKenna hit Evan Duchesne in stride on a skinny post for a score and G-Prep went up 24-7 with 1:47 left in the third.
McKenna’s 22-yard scamper with 2:54 left sealed it.
G-Prep has a bye week before facing Ferris on Oct. 17. Mead travels to Huntington Beach, California, to face Marina HS on Friday.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.