Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 | 4:22 p.m.
Kenny Sanchez was just 28-years-old when he moved to Las Vegas to become the Bishop Gorman High football team’s defensive coordinator. Never, not his wildest imagination, could he envision what would transpire over the next decade.
The program’s goal was simple, but not always previously obtainable: Take the roster of talented of players and mold them into champions. More specifically: Beat Palo Verde for local supremacy on the way to winning the state title.
Not only have the Gaels repeatedly beat Palo Verde, they’ve also had their way Arbor View, Liberty and every other Nevada team they’ve lined up against.
Some opponents have pieced together impressive scoring drives, but just a few have challenged into the second half.
Reno’s Bishop Manogue almost gave the Gaels a second-half threat today in the state championship game at Sam Boyd Stadium. But the Gaels scored three touchdowns in about two minutes at the end of the second half, turning a one-touchdown lead into a 27-point advantage on the way to a 69-26 victory and 10th straight state championship.
“It is great to be part of this legacy and this ‘Decade of Dominance’ like we call it in the locker room,” said junior wide receiver Rome Odunze, who took a short pass with 40 seconds remaining in the first half and outraced the defense for a 61-yard touchdown to further expand the Gorman lead.
“For the people who came before us, we knew we had to come out and play hard and give this program what it deserved, a 10-peat.”
By no means was this Gorman’s best team — the Gaels, after all, won more than 50 straight games and three mythical national championships through 2016. But, with many first-time contributors who were heavily counted on, you can argue this Gorman team was the most improved from the beginning of the season to the end.
Amod Cianelli, one of the few returners at the skilled positions, didn’t regain his starting position at running back until late in the season. And he showed why against Manogue, rushing for more than 300 yards and six touchdowns to help Gorman gain more than 500 yards on the ground.
Cianelli had a 61-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game, following in the line of other notable Gorman backs — Shaq Powell, Biaggio Ali-Walsh — to have dominating final-month performances toward the end of their career.
“The backs get a lot of credit for all that stuff, but the offensive line, you can’t run the ball without those guys,” said Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez, who was elevated to head coach in 2014 after brother.
Sanchez rarely dwells on past accomplishments because he knows that can lead to complacency. He holds the championship teams of yesteryear in high regard because they established a culture of hard work, but prefers for each team to have its own identity.
This year’s team, unlike the other nine before it, certainly had to overcome more. They dropped three of their initial four games, including losing by the mercy rule of the running clock on national television in the season opener.
But, just like those other teams, they didn’t stop getting better and realized the ultimate goal was to win on the first Saturday of December.
“To do 10 years in a row ...Unbelievable. I am going to let this one set in for awhile,” Sanchez said.
A back and forth game for most of the first half, flipped strongly into Gorman’s favor before halftime. Manogue trailed by two touchdowns and had the ball with less than three minutes to play. It also received the ball first in the second half, meaning consecutive scoring drives would have tied the game.
But Gorman junior linebacker Elijah Gilliam had other ideas. He stepped in front of a pass to grab an interception and returned it to inside the Manogue 20-yard line, setting up Cianelli for his third touchdown run of the half — and second score in less than a minute.
The final three minutes of the half “impacted our team and gave us confidence,” Gilliam said.
“We know that if we practice hard, it turns out good,” he added.
Don’t expect Gorman lose its spot atop the mountain. The Gaels, unlike this season, return many key contributors — everyone from dual-threat quarterback Micah Bowens (four total touchdowns today), Odunze, sophomore lineman Alec Rodriguez and freshman tailback Cam Barfield on offense, to a defense led by 2020 linebackers Gilliam and Bryan Certain.
And, before the calendar flips to 2019, Sanchez will do what he’s done every December — start prepping to defend a championship.