Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer express excitement over the race in the Northwest division with Shadow Ridge and Legacy emerging as surprise contenders, and take stock of the other leagues.
Down on one knee, Biaggio Ali Walsh stayed as calm as an ocean breeze as a sea of orange violently thrashed around him.
Fans wanted pictures. Family members wanted hugs. Teammates wanted to celebrate. But the Bishop Gorman senior running back needed a moment to himself in the middle of Fertitta Field to process the riptide he had created.
Ali Walsh was just moments removed from pulling off a 2-point conversion in triple overtime Friday night to extend Bishop Gorman’s winning streak to 45 games in a 25-24 victory over national power St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I just had to get in,” Ali Walsh said. “I don’t know what it was, it was just all in the moment.”
Bishop Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez decided to go for two after the Gaels initially set up for the point after and the Raiders were flagged for lining up in the neutral zone to put the ball inside the 2-yard line. Offensive coordinator Craig Canfield called for a pitch to the defending Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year.
Ali Walsh was hit short of the goal line, but fell forward to score. It made for a euphoric ending to an otherwise exasperating night, as Aquinas had bottled up Ali Walsh in his first game back after injuring his ankle a month ago.
Ali Walsh’s crash into the end zone put top-ranked Bishop Gorman in position to win a third straight national championship by finishing its national schedule 5-0 with a win over the team that came into the season at No. 1.
“I’m going to be honest: Now it feels like it was fun,” Sanchez said. “During it, it was like having a heart attack. But I’m just so proud of our boys. I’m so in awe of these kids that never flinch. They are like horses. Horses wear blinders, and never see anything to the side to distract them. They only see the finish line, and that’s what these guys did.”
Ali Walsh’s game-winner was only the final flinch-able moment the Gaels raced through in an evening full of them. It took two overtime touchdown passes from senior quarterback Tate Martell to junior receiver Jalen Nailor to make it possible.
The one in the first overtime, Martell threaded between four Aquinas defenders like a paper football through a crack in the door to a diving Nailor on a fourth-down from the 7-yard line with Gorman trailing 17-10. But most of the game was a defensive battle — and Gorman senior safety Bubba Bolden was the general.
“The inner beast came out,” Bolden said. “I got that tattoo on my chest of that lion, and that’s what it is. It comes out.”
Bolden’s biggest play came in the second overtime when Aquinas lined up for a field goal. The Raiders had stuffed Martell on fourth down from the goal line, and lined up for a 24-yard field goal to win the game two plays later.
Gorman put in its block unit, with the highly recruited 6-foot-3, 185-pound Bolden in the middle. He timed the kick, leapt and got just enough of his hand on the ball for it to deflect off the cross bar.
“Bubba has a great mentality, and he thinks like a winner,” Ali Walsh said. “He showed the way he thinks today. He deserves game MVP all the way.”
Bolden also prevented the Raiders from pulling away earlier. Gorman trailed 7-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, and Aquinas had the ball at the 11-yard line.
The home sideline was silent and mostly motionless except for Bolden, who was raising his arms and talking to his team.
“I told them, ‘I’m going to get a pick on my mom’s life,’” Bolden recalled.
Aquinas ran a reverse-pass, almost identical to the play that scored its only regulation touchdown, intended for Ohio State commit Trevon Grimes but Bolden jumped the route. He fulfilled his promise to his teammates on one play with his second interception of the night.
Gorman’s stagnant offense whipped to life with Bolden’s boost, going 80 yards in just more than four minutes before Martell found junior tight end Brevin Jordan for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Gaels ahead 10-7.
Martell, an Ohio State commit who has never lost in three seasons as Gorman’s quarterback, had 190 total yards and prolonged his streak of no interceptions so far this season.
“Games like this aren’t healthy,” said the California-committed Ali Walsh, who had 85 yards on 24 carries. “My heart — I’m vulnerable. That was bad.”
Ali Walsh surely had trouble breathing in the final 3:30 of regulation. Aquinas drove 55 yards, with Florida-bound senior quarterback Jake Allen repeatedly finding senior receiver Jordan Merrell, headed to Florida Atlantic, with Grimes injured.
The Raiders got down to the 6-yard line but had to settle for a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation after junior linebackers Skylar Salva and Palaie Gaoteote stuffed a third-and-2 play for a loss.
Merrell went on to score on the first play of overtime. Gorman labored more offensively in the extra periods.
It may have cost Ali Walsh several heartbeats, but he got them back once he gathered himself to let his final play sink in.
“When you’re that close, you expect it to be a quarterback sneak or a gut and that’s what we did the last time we were down on the line,” Ali Walsh said. “So we tossed it this time. I saw the guy come up, and I just cut in.”