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Mistakes ground Eagles in 28-7 loss
(Published September 19, 2005)

Staff Writer

As the only two Jesuit high schools in the area, Georgetown Prep and Gonzaga have always been rivals. Their football rivalry stretches back to 1920, 17 years before a professional team first arrived in the nation's capital.

With that in mind, it was not surprising that both teams and their fans understood the emotional weight and tradition that went into their Sept. 10 match-up. For Gonzaga fans, this meant standing and heartily cheering as the opening lineup was announced and the Eagles entered the field of play.

Despite the ravenous support of its home fans, Gonzaga opened the game looking rusty and nervous, ultimately losing the contest 28-7. On the Eagles' opening offensive drive, Georgetown Prep's front four defensive linemen patched up any holes, forcing Gonzaga to punt after three plays.

Following the punt, Georgetown Prep took over at its own 40-yard line and instantly attacked Gonzaga's relatively inexperienced defense. On the first play from scrimmage, Prep quarterback Andrew Aldrich rolled out to the right to loft the ball past the outstretched arms of a Gonzaga defender as spot senior wide receiver Michael Shackelford swiftly ran down the right sideline, catching the pass at Gonzaga's 40-yard line and remaining untouched as he marched downfield for a 60-yard touchdown. With the extra point good, Georegtown Prep took an early 7-0 lead.Although Prep's early score would be a forbearer of further dominance in the game, there were no other passing plays over 25 yards, as both teams built their offense around the run.

In the first quarter, though, Gonzaga had trouble establishing any offense, presenting a problem for a squad that Head Coach Kenny Lucas says operates by "taking what the defense gives us." During the first quarter, Prep's defense simply wasn't very charitable.

Playing a large role in Prep's stifling defense during the game's opening stages were the team's linebackers, who constantly blitzed Gonzaga's defensive line from the outside. In particular, Prep linebacker Jeremy Hirsch was seemingly everywhere at the left linebacking position. On one occasion he remained untouched on the outside, knocking Gonzaga quarterback Tyler Fisher for a sack. On another play, Hirsch disrupted another pass by tripping Gonzaga receiver Jerome Johnson behind the line of scrimmage on a screen.

Despite the steady play of its defensive unit for the remainder of the first quarter, Prep's offense remained stagnant after its initial touchdown, despite starting one of their drives in Gonzaga territory after an Eagles fumble.

Prep's offense reinvigorated itself with a 60-yard scoring drive to begin the second quarter. Rough and rugged running plays accounted for all the yards gained on the drive. Key to the drive was the play of 205-pound sophomore running back Chase Williams. Williams, larger than most of the Gonzaga defense he faced, lowered his shoulders, and following the blocks of offensive lineman Andrew Phillips, ran straight at the Gonzaga defense, carrying two or three Gonzaga players with him, as he rumbled for 23 combined yards on his first two carries to move the ball to the 20-yard line.

On Prep's next play, Aldrich faked the option pitch left and, instead, handed the ball to junior Ryan Shuler, who on the delayed running play, ran past the fooled middle defense and burst into the open field for a nine-yard gain. Three plays later, Little Hoyas' sophomore Marcus Dotwin, on a crucial third down play at the 2-yard line, silenced the partisan Gonzaga crowd by diving over the Eagles' defensive line for the touchdown. After the extra point, Georgetown Prep had what turned out to be a commanding 14-0 lead with 8:34 left in the second quarter.

But Gonzaga still had some fight remaining. On the kickoff following the touchdown, running back Joey Orfini fielded a low-bouncing kick at the 17, found a hole on the left side, followed his blockers up the sideline and got all the way to the Prep 30-yard line before being shoved out of bounds. Gonzaga's offense kept things moving, as under-utilized running back T.J. Putman nearly took the ball home on a second and 2 play from Prep's 22-yard line. Putman followed lead blockers Paul Haynos, Joe Drummney, and Mark Russell on a sweep toss to the left side that might have gone for 6, if not for the touchdown-saving tackle of Andrew Dolan, who as the only player in Putman's way avoided Gonzaga's blockers and stopped Putman's acceleration near the 10-yard line. Gonzaga continued moving the ball to the 1-yard line, where Orfini dived into the end zone for the score.

Opportunity was not quite done knocking on Gonzaga's door, as the Eagles' Tim Barry recovered a fumble on the kickoff following his team's score. The opportunity went for naught, though, as on the first play after the fumble, an offensive pass interference call on Jerome Johnson moved the ball backwards, and the drive culminated with Gonzaga's Matt Deery kicking the ball well short on a 43-yard field goal attempt.

Gonzaga escaped further harm before halftime, as Casey Dobyn's 33-yard field goal attempt barely missed the left uprights with 10 seconds remaining in the first half. That was about the only good luck Gonzaga would receive for the remainder of the game as, much like Deery's kick, the team would get some distance on offense but would be well short of meeting their goal.

On defense, Gonzaga played better in the second half, looking faster and sharper. Nevertheless, Georgetown Prep held a major advantage in the size of the Little Hoyas' offensive line, and at no other position was this more noticeable than at the left tackle position, where Andrew Phillips played. At 290 pounds, Phillips typically moved the Gonzaga defensive lineman he was facing back one to three yards on each play. He also helped catapult Georgetown Prep into holding a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter.

After two consecutive quick handoffs to Hirsch down the middle had gained Prep no yards, the team faced a third and 10 play from Gonzaga's 11-yard line. Once again, it appeared at least from the vantage point of Gonzaga defenders that Hirsch was running down the middle, as the defensive line and two of Gonzaga's linebackers rushed in to clog the middle of the field. But instead of a run up the middle, Aldrich carried the ball himself up the left side, as blockers Jon Tatum and Phillips cleared out all but one player on the left side of the field. Aldrich ran directly at the left side linebacker, who tackled him, but not before he was able to make a last-second pitch to running back Dotwin, who ran into the endzone untouched for Prep's third touchdown to make the score 21-7 late in the third quarter.

Dotwin, with his second score of the game, wasn't finished, as another offensive opportunity for Gonzaga led to disastrous results. After moving the ball to the Prep 15-yard line and facing a second and 11 play, Prep decided to blitz and the offensive line broke down. Fisher, facing pressure up the middle from two Prep players and hoping to avoid the sack, jumped on his back foot and lobbed the ball toward the middle of the field, failing to notice Dotwin, playing defense, staying back in coverage to play the pass. Dotwin snatched the ball out of the air, ran down the right side and broke the tackle attempt by Fisher, who was the only Gonzaga player positioned to give legitimate pursuit. Eighty-five yards later, Dotwin had his third touchdown of the game and Georgetown Prep led 28-7. The clock said 10:08 remained in the fourth quarter, but the game was effectively over.

"We knew it was gonna be a tight-end pop, and I saw it and I took it in there," said Dotwin, nonchalantly, about his interception and third touchdown.

Georgetown Prep defensive line coach Gary Schneider praised the play of his team.

"Both the offensive and defensive line played really well, and they opened up nice holes for the running back. Everyone just played a good game -- it was a team effort for sure," Schneider said.

Gonzaga Coach Lucas was also quick to credit Georgetown Prep's play.

"You would like to say we could have played better, but you got to give Georgetown Prep credit -- they played a great game," Lucas said.

As for his own Eagles team, Lucas said that "right now, we need to work on everything."

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator