Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. kickoff will mark the fourth time in the last five years the two teams will meet in the state playoffs. Four years ago, the Gaels topped the Raiders 62-21 in the state semifinals, two years ago Bishop Gorman thumped Reed 72-28 in the state title game and last year, the now national power topped the Blue and Gold 49-24 in the state semifinals.
Bishop Gorman has won four consecutive state titles in its four years under coach Tony Sanchez. At 13-2 this season, Maxpreps.com ranks the Gaels No. 54 in the nation – the website ranks Reed No. 1058 for what it’s worth. Only Mountain Pointe (No. 6 in nation on Maxpreps.com) out of Phoenix and Washington (No. 7 in nation on Maxpreps.com) out of Miami, have topped the Gaels this season.
“This is one of the best teams you will ever face as an athlete at this level,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “They are loaded at every position. They have a bunch of scholarship players on both sides of the ball. They’re really good.
“They are as well disciplined and as well coached as any team we’ve ever seen on film.”
Despite the Gaels’ dominance over Reed — over the whole state for that matter — Howren said there is no additional motivation for Saturday’s state title game. Throughout the Raiders’ playoff push, Howren has preached the need to think about each game as a single event without any outside influences.
The Raiders aren’t intimidated either.
“Not at all, no, they are kids just like our kids,” Howren said. “We all do things very similar. It’s a state championship. We’re just excited about the opportunity but gosh, we’re not intimidated by anybody.”
On the other side of what has now become a one-sided teeter totter for Nevada prep football supremacy, Sanchez and his squad must handle ‘just show up’ effect. It would be understandable for the Gaels to play sluggishly with their recent success against Reed.
In last year’s semifinal, the Gaels led just 21-17 with four minutes left in the third quarter before awaking in the fourth quarter.
As a coach that takes great pride in consistency, Sanchez is not concerned about his team sleep walking through Saturday’s state title showdown.
“I think that’s where consistency comes in again,” Sanchez said. “I think the way you get rid of complacency is with consistency. We finished our game last Saturday (45-7 win over Palo Verde in state semifinal) and on Monday we were here four hours. We watched film. We lifted weights. We practiced; we did our deal. So I think that kind of eliminates any possibility of over-looking them (Reed). Obviously you have to play with a high energy level but I know our kids aren’t going to over-look them.”
Reed was forced to stray from its weekly consistency by Tuesday’s snow, which forced the team to practice in the gym. Still, Howren was not concerned the change will affect the week’s preparation.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bishop Gorman takes pride in its run defense. The Gaels only allowed more than 200 yards of rushing twice this season, although both were safely over the mark (361 against Mount Pointe and 387 against Crespi).
“Defensively, we do a great job playing bend-but-don’t-break defense,” Sanchez said. “Stopping the run has kind of been our forte this year. The first game of the season against Mount Pointe we didn’t look that great but since then, regardless of who we have played, we have done a really good job of stopping the run.”
The Gaels’ healthy run defense will create a possible state-title-deciding battle with the Raiders’ rushing attack. Led by senior 'run-you-over-then-run-past-you' running back Jordan de Leon and quarterback Chris Denn, Reed owns the most dangerous ground game in the North.
On the offensive side of the ball, like Reed, the Gaels like to keep it on the ground. Also like the Raiders, Bishop Gorman is led by a dual-threat quarterback, Randall Cunningham. Gorman’s signal caller has carried the ball 145 times this season for 1,210 yards and 10 touchdowns. Denn has tucked the rock 159 times this season for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns.
After winning three straight North titles, and claiming the region four of the last five seasons, Howren is still in search of the elusive season-ending win.
“It would mean everything,” Howren said. “To get our first championship, to get it against a program like Gorman, it would just mean everything to us – the kids, the coaches, Raider nation.”