Archbishop Spalding performed several miracles on the way to pulling off a feat it never had before Friday night against visiting Gonzaga.
The Cavaliers’ defense held strong deep in its own territory twice, once at the end of regulation and again in overtime. Quarterback Nick Gutierrez did his part by running in a 10-yard touchdown on the first play of the extra period.
In the end, on the way to a 20-13 victory over a Gonzaga program that Spalding had never previously beaten, the Cavaliers simply delivered every time they needed a play.
“A year ago, this is all what we really missed. Just really proud of our kids,” coach Kyle Schmitt said. “They’re fighters. We just talk about being resilient and finishing. I told them it was going to take a little longer to finish tonight — but we got there.”
In front of a lively crowd, the Cavaliers defense prevented the visiting Eagles from scoring the go-ahead touchdown five yards away from the end-zone with a minute remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter. The subsequent Gonzaga field goal tied the game at 13-13 and sent the game to overtime.
The touchdown run by Gutierrez — his third of the night — and the made extra-point by Cory Butts put Spalding back in front. Then, it was all down to defense again.
After three stops, the spotlight shifted to rest on Tyler Brown on fourth down.
The Cavaliers’ sophomore leapt to break up a Gonzaga pass to the end-zone and smacked it out of the air. Seconds later, the Cavaliers rushed the field to celebrate their greatest win in years.
Nerves flushed through Gutierrez (27 carries for 147 rushing yards, three touchdowns) when he saw flags fly on Brown’s pass breakup.
“I was scared. But then I heard it was on them, we declined it, and oh my God,” Gutierrez said. “I thought I was going to pass out. I can’t believe it.”
Schmitt stressed to his players afterward not to rest on their laurels with Calvert Hall coming next week. But Gutierrez, along with several others, still made sure to take time to let the moment sink in.
This, he said, was a statement win.
“Teams never respect us. Tonight, we fought to the very end and came out victorious,” Gutierrez said. “I think it’s a really big statement. Doesn’t matter how others think of us, but how we prepare for the next two games.”
Schmitt let it soak in, too. He ran up and gave a hug to every coach he could find. When Schmitt and his staff arrived at Whittles Field a decade ago, they dreamt of helping Spalding reach national status. Emotion struck Schmitt as he remembered two of his former coaches — Mike Hartman and Jon England — who recently passed away before they could see the hard work coming to fruition.
“We didn’t get good fast. We had a 3-8 [season] here, when Gilman put 69 points on us here on this field in 2014,” Schmitt said. “But we just keep persisting. This was a big one.”
The Cavaliers improved to 5-0 despite producing their lowest offensive output of the season and allowing Gonzaga to score the most points against them since Broadneck also scored 13 on Sept. 3.
A bobbled pitch to the punter, a handful of false starts and a fumble recovered by Gonzaga kept Spalding off the board in a scoreless first quarter.
The Cavaliers’ starting center left the game with a shoulder issue, bringing in sophomore Caiden Leonard. Once Leonard adjusted to the game, he blended in seamlessly with the offense. When Spalding was firing on all cylinders, they were a different team — one Gonzaga couldn’t stop.
“He fought, snaps were great the rest of the game,” Schmitt said. “Couldn’t be prouder of that kid.”
Between Gutierrez and Jordan Harris, the Cavaliers helped move the ball down to the one-yard line early in the second quarter. Gonzaga successfully battered back the offense for two plays but was no match for Gutierrez’s athleticism. The senior quarterback flipped over the heads of about six Eagles to get the first touchdown of the night and, after a good kick, put Spalding up 7-0.
“I felt like Lamar Jackson,” Gutierrez said.
A “live-ball” penalty stripped away Jordan Pennick’s crowning moment. The senior had plucked a blocked Gonzaga punt out of the air and hauled it in for a touchdown. That score would get called back, but the turnover wouldn’t.
The other Jordan had his back, however. Harris drove the first play down 35 yards and a penalty on Gonzaga handed Spalding another set of yards to the seven-yard line. Gutierrez rushed through the middle on the next play, shaking his hand in furious excitement as the Cavaliers celebrated their 13-0 lead.
An incomplete pass on third down would cost Spalding another score just before the half, just as the subsequent missed field goal would.
That padding might have negated the impact of what transpired in the second half.
Gonzaga, seemingly renewed with Carson Petitbon back under center, moved much more efficiently down the field. The Spalding defense would hold the Eagles to a field goal.
Three points was one thing. A three-point differential was another.
On the next Gonzaga drive, Petitbon — an Annapolis native — dodged a slew of missed tackles from the Cavaliers’ defense and carved out a 52-yard touchdown for the Eagles. As the next kick flew between the posts, Spalding was ahead by only three, 13-10.
The offense responded to that touchdown with a punt. And then, despite a heroic punt return fumble recovery from Butts, Spalding squandered that chance by coming a few inches short on its next possession. The Cavaliers would squander a chance again when Matthew Benny swiped a Gonzaga fumble and ran it down to the 4-yard line in the fourth quarter.
But when things seemed lost, as Gonzaga stood on the five-yard line in the closing minute of regulation, it came down to the defense and Gutierrez.
“Not scoring in the second half, that’s not like us,” Gutierrez said. “Then [in overtime] we drew up a play we knew we’d like. I saw a cutback and saw the red end-zone with nobody in front of it. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had in my life.”