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August 14, 2018

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high school football:

Gorman’s 9th straight football state championship a credit to its strong defense

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Ray Brewer

Bishop Gorman wins the state championship in Reno on December 2, 2017.

RENO — At the start of the second half, a fan sitting in the home bleachers passionately yelled, “We need to get a first down.” The tone of her voice drew cheers and chuckles from nearby supporters who had already come to realize the Bishop Gorman High defense wasn’t going to yield much.

It was that kind of a season for opponents trying to move the ball on the Gaels. First downs weren’t easy to come by. Same for points.

Gorman continued its dominance this afternoon in the large-school state championship game against Reed, keeping the Northern Region championship out of the endzone — and for the most part the Gorman side of the field — until the final minutes of a 48-7 victory at Mackay Stadium for Gorman’s ninth consecutive title.

And it wasn’t only Gorman’s notable defenders.

While USC commit Palaie Gaoteote concluded his celebrated Gorman career with at least three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, the good play also included the likes defensive linemen Jeff Utlofoshio, Isaac Tuia and Jaxon Bozarth controlling the trenches. They were constantly in the Reed backfield in recording six sacks, and limiting Reed to about 25 rushing yards.

“What a special group, man. What a special group,” Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said of his defense.

When Gorman turned the ball over midway through the third quarter on its 39-yard line, Reed had one of its best chances to score. But on the second play, Utlofoshio stepped in front of a pass for an interception and returned it deep into Reed territory.

Gorman scored six plays later on a short touchdown run from Dorian Thompson-Robinson for its 48th unanswered point to open the game. Even though players such as Gaoteote or Arizona commit Adam Plant were often the focus of attention on the Gorman defense, they’ve repeatedly said the unit has many more talented players.

More important, as witnessed today, or during Gorman’s streak of seven straight shutouts during the season, they work well together. Gorman surrendered just 122 points in 15 games, and only 30 against instate competition.

“It is not like that is Palaie and he is going to SC, or that is Adam, and we are in awe,” Utlofoshio said. “We work well together. It is that type of respect that has made us click.”

In the first quarter, Gorman limited Reed to eight plays and about 15 yards. Reed picked up three first downs on its initial drive of the second quarter, but had to settle for a missed field goal attempt. To open the second half, Reed went three-and-out on consecutive possessions.

With each empty trip for Reed, Gorman seemed to capitalize.

Thompson-Robinson scored three different ways — rushing, passing and receiving on a trick-play pass from wide out Jalen Nailor — and running back Amod Cianelli had a pair of touchdowns. Brevin Jordan had nearly 100 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown, and Derek Ng kicked a pair of field goals. Because of the defensive pressure, Gorman typically received the ball around midfield on most possessions, especially in the first half in building a 31-0 halftime advantage.

“On the second play of the game we got a sack,” Utlofoshio said. “I knew our guys would match their guys. We got a lot of sacks out of it.”

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Sanchez received a water-cooler shower and players slide head-first onto the field in celebration. Winning a championship, they tell you, isn’t easy — especially when every team aspires to end your dominance.

On Friday night, hours before his team would playing for another championship, Sanchez brought players together for one last team meeting. His message was simple: Don’t lose mental focus.

“We talked about mental fortitude and how to never overlook an opponent,” he said. “We haven’t slipped up over the past nine years.”

Sanchez rarely talks about his team’s accomplishments while they are happening. Win or lose, he’s insistent about getting ready for the next week’s game. Today was different.

He spotted more than 20 former players from the past championship teams in attendance and couldn’t help thinking about the journey. Gorman hasn’t lost to Nevada opponent since 2008, when Sanchez and his older brother, Tony, where still coaching in California. They came to Gorman in the spring of 2009, and quickly built a Gorman dynasty.

While the Gaels lost this season for the first time since 2013, they still won the last game of the season. And that’s the game Sanchez has long said matters the most.

“I can’t believe how fast it’s gone,” he lamented.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21