Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 | 5:45 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer get one final football discussion in before the end of the season. They look back on the semifinals and move on to the state championship.
When Randall Cunningham II battled through stretches of inconsistent play earlier this season for the Bishop Gorman High football team, not many associated with the program lost confidence in the dual-threat quarterback.
They practice with him every day, seeing his off-the-charts athletic ability up close. They knew it would be a matter of time until he equaled the lofty expectations — because his lanky 6-foot-5 frame and elongated passing motion resembles his famous father's, most assumed he would immediately produce similar results.
“It is crazy. It is crazy,” Gorman senior running back Daniel Stewart said of Cunningham’s athleticism. “He is so long and tall, but it comes so easy. When he moves around and runs, you would think he would get hurt, but it’s so easy for him.”
Cunningham was the star of the Division I state championship today against Reed of Sparks, rushing for 213 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries, and completing 9 of 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown to lead the Gaels to their fifth straight championship with a 49-14 victory.
In the stadium where his father was an All-American for UNLV, Cunningham easily had his career-best game in beating Reed with his running and passing ability. And, just like dad, he wears jersey No. 12.
He showed off his 4.6-second 40-yard-dash speed — rare for someone with his height and what makes him a blue-chip college recruit — and, more important, improvements in his passing. Despite the wind and cold weather, his passes were on-target all game.
“It was being able to play for the people around me,” Cunningham said. “I wanted to play for my teammates and do the best job for them. As a team, I knew they would pick me up and we could win state.”
After Reed took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game, Gorman scored 41 unanswered points to become the first large-school classification team since Reno High in 1928 to win five straight championships.
You could argue that earlier in the season, when Cunningham was still becoming comfortable leading the team in his first year as the starter, the string of consecutive points wouldn’t have happened so leisurely. But Cunningham was calm under pressure, picking up a first down with his feet on a third-and-long on Gorman’s initial drive of the game and never stopping until he was pulled with eight minutes remaining for the second string.
Cunningham had touchdown runs of 12, 22, 28 and 11 yards, and connected with Riley Hoff for an easy 27-yard touchdown.
“Look at his evolution from Game One until now,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “He’s a special, dynamic football player. He’s a great competitor.
“Playing that position, it takes a minute to do it. I don’t care how many reps you get in practice; until you have to go out and start a game, it’s tough. You really saw him grow and become a good player.”
Gorman led just 21-7 at halftime but scored three touchdowns during a 91-second stretch in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
The Gorman defense deserves most of the credit for the outburst. Dylan Weldon blocked a short field goal attempt that would have cut Gorman’s lead to 21-10. Instead, Cunningham wasted little time driving Gorman down the field, racing 49 yards on the first play after the block. Two plays later, he scored on a 28-yard run for a 28-7 lead.
“We have been there before,” Cunningham said of the scoring outburst. “We knew what it takes to win a state championship, and that helped.”
Eight seconds later, the Gorman defense struck again when Stewart had a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown. He also scored on a 1-yard run in the first half, but this touchdown likely put the game out of reach in giving Gorman a 35-7 lead.
It was the second Gorman interception — the first, by junior Nicco Fertitta, gave Gorman a short field at the end of the second quarter for a touchdown and a double-digit halftime lead.
After losing its first game of the season, Gorman closed by winning 13 of its final 14 games. The second loss was to a Florida school ranked No. 1 in the nation. In the first loss, Cunningham had just five completions; in the second, he had seven completions and three interceptions.
Yes, it’s easy to see the improvements. Today, Cunningham showed that skill set recruiters are salivating over. But more important to him was having a hand in Gorman extending its dynasty to a fifth straight championship.
“I’m really thankful to be out here with my teammates and to end our season right,” Cunningham said.
This won’t be the last you hear of Cunningham. He’s the nation’s top high-jumper in track and could one day be an Olympian. What some don’t realize is the grind of balancing his time in becoming a great quarterback and a world-class jumper.
“The sky is the limit for that kid," Sanchez said. "I’m hoping he wears a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring one day."