Gonzaga football coach Aaron Brady called it a win his team has been “working toward for four years.” In reality, it was more like 11.
It was 2002 the last time the Eagles defeated Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, the four-time defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) champions. However one chooses to count it, Friday night in Olney signaled the end of a 22-game conference win streak for the Falcons as the visiting Eagles soared to a 30-20 victory, playing the role of spoiler on Good Counsel's homecoming night.
The Eagles (3-2) jumped out to an early lead from which Good Counsel (3-2) never seemed to fully recover. First, Marcus Lewis returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to give Gonzaga a 7-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game. Then, after a three-and-out on Good Counsel's opening possession, which included a botched snap on a punt attempt that gave the Eagles the ball at the Falcons' 12, Ohio University recruit Robbie Walker scored on a 2-yard run to put Gonzaga on top 14-0 less than four minutes in.
Afterwards, a confident Walker called the win a changing of the guard in the WCAC.
“This win means a lot,” Walker said. “It's a turning of the tide.”
Good Counsel was able to stay in it throughout, really, thanks to three big scoring plays. The Falcons scored all three of their touchdowns on pass plays that went for 60 yards or more.
The first one came on the Falcons' ensuing possession following Walker's two-yard score when junior quarterback Bryan Strittmatter hit Keon Paye for a 60-yard touchdown pass to give Good Counsel some life with 7:41 left in the first. After the kick failed, the Falcons trailed, 14-6.
Later in the half, still trailing 14-6, Good Counsel began to build momentum and forced Gonzaga to punt from its own 47. And when an errant snap sailed about 15 yards over punter Ben Cima's head, it looked as though the Falcons would have prime field position with a chance to tie the game. But, somehow, Cima managed to chase the ball down and get off a 65-yard punt that pinned the Falcons back to their own 12.
Brady called that a game-changing play, adding that Cima had never even picked up a football until this past summer. A rugby player, Cima also connected on field goals from 43 yards out (that gave the Eagles a 17-6 lead with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the first half), 28 yards and 26 yards, both in the second half.
The second big touchdown play for Good Counsel came when trailing 20-6 (following Cima's 28-yard field goal) when backup quarterback Andres Castillo connected with Kaye for a 65-yard score to make it 20-13 with 3:13 left in the third.
Two possessions after Cima's 26-yard field goal that made the score 23-13 with three seconds left in the third quarter, Castillo connected with Kaye again — this time from 80 yards out — to cut it to 23-20 with 4:55 left in the game.
On Gonzaga's next possession, the scariest moment of the night came for Good Counsel when senior defensive end Jesse Aniebonam collided with a teammate when making a tackle. Following a 20-minute delay while the ambulance made its way to the stadium, the University of Maryland, College Park recruit was carted off the field on a stretcher.
Afterwards, Good Counsel coach Bob Milloy declined to speculate on the seriousness of the injury, but remained hopeful, adding that Aniebonam was moving his extremities and was alert and that it's better to take extra precaution.
Following the injury, when play resumed, Walker found the end zone from two yards out to give Gonzaga a 30-20 lead with 42 seconds left that sealed the win.
Milloy said afterward he was not going to allow his team to be discouraged.
“They played a great game tonight,” Milloy said of Gonzaga. “But I told our kids this is just the fifth round of a 12-round fight. We got seven more rounds to go.”
It was Good Counsel's first home loss since 2010, a 31-28 loss to DeMatha. The Stags and Falcons play next Friday night at DeMatha.