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Gonzaga Holds Off Georgetown in MAVRC Final

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Gonzaga Holds Off Georgetown in MAVRC Final

Patrick Hesse of Gonzaga gets some attention from Jack Mortensen of Georgetown Prep in the MAVRC final Friday night.

In a rematch of a very tense regular season meeting between the two, Gonzaga HS once again held off a determined Georgetown Prep, this time to win the MAVRC championship Friday night.

Before the crowd was even settled in their seats at Gonzaga's Buchanan Field, Georgetown Prep made clear their intent to make the path to another MAVRC championship as difficult as possible for Gonzaga. In the opening minutes, Prep worked their way into the Gonzaga half using combinations of backs and forwards to press the attack, moving the point of attack and the Gonzaga defenders.  The pressure culminated with a try when Prep moved the ball out right to the backs, then attacked back tight left and then moved to the far left where prop Jose Cruz finished off a hard run from flanker Brian Ferrigno, punching in for a try and a 5-0 Prep lead.  

The game was destined to reflect the contrasting styles of these two rivals, Gonzaga using their size and strength to maul and bull the ball forward, with Prep favoring a more open, dynamic game, and varying the attack. With Gonzaga's field being about 56 meters wide, the forward play of the hosts was nicely suited, but Prep played wide fairly successfully, nonetheless.

Gonzaga got an opportunity to bounce back right when Prep committed an unforced error and knocked on the ensuing restart. Gonzaga went to work immediately, using the ensuing 5 meter scrum as the platform for a series of forward runs and pick-and-drives at the Prep goal line.  No. 8 Bailey Ogilvie finally found a seam and dotted down to tie the score 5-5 with only 6 minutes expired.

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The game see-sawed back and forth over the next dozen minutes, until once again Gonzaga got a lineout opportunity near the Prep try line. Using a well-constructed driving maul to push towards the Prep line from about 10 meters, the Eagles were eventually rewarded with a try to second row Patrick Hess.  It was converted by flyhalf Patrick Sheehy, pushing the Eagles in front 12-5. 

Just minutes later, Prep missed an opportunity to close the gap when a long range penalty kick from fullback Garrett Lyons dropped just short of the crossbar.  Not long after, Gonzaga found themselves with another lineout deep in the Prep half.  After the ensuing maul was slowed, Gonzaga held possession thru multiple phases, and the Eagle runners were repelled by the Prep defense. The ball eventually found second row Mike Shincovich, who stretched his long frame over the tryline amidst a bevy of Prep defenders. The referee crew consulted on whether Shincovich acheived downward pressure on the ball, and awarded the try. Sheehy hit the conversion and Gonzaga pulled in front 19-5.

Prep responded from the restart, forcing their way back up field attacking thru the backs and forwards. Gonzaga was penalized just within striking distance of a penalty kick, again. The kick was again just short of the mark. The field was playing a major role in the game, with the football goalposts at the rear of the try zone lengthening the distance for points and reducing the impact of the accurate, long range boot of Lyons. 

However, Prep was moving the ball effectively and stifling the Gonzaga backline attack.  Gonzaga was dominating in tight using their lineout as a platform to maul and strong running off the breakdown by their forwards.  The contest in the breakdown area was very competitive, yet both teams were able to maintain possession more effectively then in their last meeting.  Gonzaga still had an edge in the lineouts, but Prep was applying more pressure to defensive lineouts and not allowing the Eagles to easily dominate the restarts.  Scrums were fairly even, the smaller Prep scrum under some pressure but maintaining possession and not allowing Gonzaga to drive.  However, it was clear that the real danger element in this game was the Gonzaga forwards attacking near the Prep line.

With less than two minutes left in the first half, Gonzaga forced their way down to the Prep end of the field again.  After battering at the Prep defense with the forwards, the Eagles popped the ball to center Ian Kilcullen who slipped off the edge of the ruck and dove in from four meters out. The half closed out shortly after the restart, and Gonzaga had a substantial 24-5 lead.

The Eagles had executed well in the first half.  The kicking game helped to force the ball downfield where they could rely on their size and forward power to produce tries.  Prep was punished for some mistakes in handling and seemed to struggle to find space and get their offense in sync.

In the second half Gonzaga continued to apply pressure and Prep countered with some new lineout tactics, including not engaging at the lineout. This netted Prep a couple critical penalties, and forced Gonzaga to move the ball away and attack without the maul to protect the ball.  The breakdown battle was sliding slightly into Prep's direction both on offense and defense, but still very competitive.  Gonzaga Prop Dante Lopresti was a bit too competitive at a midfield ruck and was yellow carded five minutes into the second half for intentionally reaching thru and knocking the ball from Prep scrumhalf Rory Hodgson. It appeared to be a critical turning point for the Hoyas, with a chance to get back into the game.  But Gonzaga weathered the storm and survived several forays by Prep into the Eagle end of the field without yielding any points. Lopresti returned to the game with about 20 minutes left to play and a 19-point lead.

However, in the second half Prep's attacking game was finally beginning to show itself, with flyhalf James Lyons slashing thru for a number of runs and eight man Thomas Gates also sparking several attacks in loose play.  Gonzaga was still kicking for position, but often it was an uneven exchange with fullback Lyons counter attacking thru the Gonzaga lines where Prep could recycle quickly.  Prep was changing the pace of the game and forcing Gonzaga to turn and defend while retreating.  BUt Prep was not able to find their way to the try line and Gonzaga was steadfast in their defense and occasionally turned over isolated Hoya attackers.

Prep was finally rewarded in the final five minutes, when Gates and Lyons linked up for an attack off a turnover 30 meters from the Gonzaga line. Gates took a quick ball off the base of the ruck and pushed wide, occupying two Gonzaga defenders, he popped the ball free to Lyons.  Lyons slashed thru the Gonzaga defensive line toward the corner where he popped to center Jack Mortensen crashing in from 5 meters out.  Mortensen was hit low and hard but was able to flip and roll into the try zone for a second Prep try, a difficult conversion was added by Garret Lyons, narrowing the gap to 24-12.  With less than two minutes remaining at the restart, it was clear time had run out on any comeback.  As time finally expired Gonzaga was able to send the ball into the stands and take home the 2016 MAVRC championship.

Gonzaga used their forward strength very well, applying pressure and netting points whenever they were close to the Prep line.  Powerful runs from Lopresti, Hess and Jordan anchored their attack.  Flanker Joey Freeman and No. 8 Ogilvie frequently added forward punch to the backline, Ogilvie in particular making some dynamic attacking runs at the Prep line.  Prep had to feel disappointed the game slipped away from them in the first half after such a quick strike score to open the game.  

Prep Head Coach Pete Walton was pleased with their response in the second half, “I am very proud that the team kept its composure, never quit, made adjustments and clawed their way back to control the second half.  We asked a lot of the boys, turning around on a short rest after a physical semi-final, to come into a game against a very strong, very powerful Gonzaga team."  He noted that it was hard to single out players, as the contributions came from "across the 15 on the field".  But he did point out that this senior class had set a new bar for the program over their four years at Georgetown Prep.

Georgetown v Gonzaga 2016 MAVRC Final