BALTIMORE – Dean Engram will tell you, he played an important role on last year’s Gonzaga football team. But this year as a junior – with veterans Sam Brown, Tyree Randolph and Max Fisher off at college football programs – the Eagles have sizable voids that needed to be filled.
Naturally, Engram has stepped to the plate, and on Saturday, he produced a series of pivotal plays that surged No. 7 Gonzaga past No. 14 Gilman, 38-0. The defensive back and receiver finished the day with a table-setting interception and a 70-yard touchdown grab that kept the Eagles rolling.
Gonzaga forced a total of six turnovers.
“I’m trying to lead the defense this year. Throughout practice, we go at the ball. Just a bunch of angry, flying-around dudes who get to the ball,” Engram said. “You know, it’s just great to see our defense get six turnovers on the first day. I’m really proud of that … and no points. Goose egg.”
Three plays into Gilman’s opening drive, Engram timed a post-route to perfection, jumping in front of the intended Greyhounds receiver to snag the Eagles’ first of three interceptions.
“It was all film-study,” Engram said. “I saw him sprint out to the opposite side of the field and my guy ran a post, and I just read it. Played the ball and came up with it.”
Shortly after – 1:25 to be exact – fullback Loic Sangwa capped a five-play, 64-yard drive with a two-yard score to put Gonzaga ahead, 7-0.
On the ensuing Gilman possession, the Greyhounds marched down to the Eagles 15-yard-line, but quarterback Purnell Hills (9-for-17, 68 yards, three interceptions and one fumble) threw an off-balance pass across his body and into the hands of Gonzaga defensive back Joseph Wete, who came up with the grab with the end zone.
Gilman’s six first half drives ended inauspiciously: Interception, interception, turnover on downs, fumble, punt, interception.
After Hills fumbled the ball at the Eagles 10-yard-line, Gonzaga cashed 10 plays later, when freshman quarterback Caleb Williams uncorked a 70-yard bomb to Engram down the right sideline. The pass-and-catch connection gave Gonzaga a 14-0 lead with 4:15 left in the second quarter.
On the third interception — recovered by 6-foot-6, 270 pound lineman Malik Bridgeman — Gilman was backed up at its own 25-yard-line – and by the time Bridgeman recovered the tipped ball and got tackled, Gonzaga set-up five yards away from the pylon.
Sangwa punched in the five-yard scoring run on the ensuing play to give Gonzaga a commanding 21-0 lead at the half.
Out of the second-half gate, Sydney Person took a 50-yard catch-and-run from Williams to end the zone to swell the Eagles lead to 28-0 and after Gilman subsequently turned the ball over on downs, Gonzaga pushed it to 35-0 on a one-yard run by Jason Labbe (103 yards on 11 carries).
In total, Gilman turned the ball over three times inside of the red zone and 28 of Gonzaga’s 35 points were fueled by Greyhound turnovers.
“It’s a different ball-game if they scored down there early in the game,” Gonzaga coach Randy Trivers said. “Being able to keep them out early in the game, I think that really helped us to establish that cushion — that lead — and get some momentum going. Had we not been able to play that strong defense early on and capitalize on those opportunities, it would have been a different result. I do want to credit our defense for creating turnovers.”
Williams, the freshman quarterback for Gonzaga, finished the day with a 139.2 passer rating on 6-for-11 passing, 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s rare. It’s rare,” Trivers said of a freshman starting in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. “He’s done just a great job in training camp of really grasping and learning the offense. He has good command out there. He did a really good job of protecting the football in that position. He made good decisions today. The kid played well.”
Gonzaga used nine different ball carriers to total 227 yards on 33 carries. Gilman’s Zachary Dixon managed 61 yards on nine carries. Navy commit Brandon Williams was held to 18 total yards on six touches.
Gonzaga will now host Viera, the 25th-ranked team from Florida, while Gilman looks to get back on track at No. 10 Good Counsel. Both games are next Friday night.
“I’m really proud with the way our players played today,” Trivers said. “The effort was really, really good. They prepared really, really well for this day, for this moment. But for them to come out and execute, some of the guys who really hadn’t done certain things in our previous year, and the way they did it today, I was very proud.
“I’m really pleased with the way our guys were able to play in our first game.”
No. 18 Caleb Williams — 6-11, 140 yards passing (12.7 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, 139.2 passer rating
No. 10 Sweeney — 0-1, 39.6 passer rating
No. 24 Jason Labbe — 11-103 (9.4 yards per carry), one touchdown, 39 long
No. 33 Lucas Warfield — 8-64 (8.0 YPC), 18 long
No. 10 Sam Sweeney — 4-22 (5.5 YPC), 10 long
No. 18 Caleb Williams — 3-16 (6.0 YPC), 21 long
No. 14 John Marshall — 1-14 (14.0 YPC), 14 long
No. 19 Thomas DiLenge — 1-9 (9.0 YPC), nine long
No. 4 Loic Sangwa– 2-7 (3.5 YPC), two touchdowns, five long
No. 23 Wade Jackson — 1-minus 1 (-1.0 YPC)
No. 6 Dean Engram — 2-minus 7 (-3.5 YPC)
TOTAL — 32-227 (6.9 YPC), three touchdowns, 39 long
No. 6 Dean Engram — 1-70 (70.0 yards per reception), one touchdown, 70 long
No. 5 Sydney Person — 3-66 (22.0 YPR), one touchdown, 50 long
No. 19 Thomas DiLenge — 1-4 (4.0 YPR), four long
No. 24 Jason Labbe — 1-0
TOTAL — 6-140 (23.3 YPR), two touchdowns, 70 long
NO. 14 GILMAN GREYHOUNDS
No. 2 Purnell Hills — 9-17, 68 yards (4.0 yards per attempt), three interceptions, 23.3 passer rating
No. 10 Josh Ettlinger — 0-1, 39.6 passer rating
No. 20 Zachary Dixon — 9-61 (6.8 yards per carry), 36 long
No. 3 Brandon Madison — 9-42 (4.7 YPC), 12 long
No. 31 Jeremy Cranston — 1-1 (1.0 YPC), one long
No. 14 Piper Bond — 1-1 (1.0 YPC), one long
No. 4 Brandon Willis — 2-minus 1 (-0.5 YPC), three long
N0. 2 Purnell Hills — 3-minus 3 (-1.0 YPC), one long, one fumble lost
TOTAL — 25-101 (4.0 YPC), 36 long, one fumble
No. 14 Piper Bond — 4-29 (7.3 yards per reception), 11 long
No. 3 Brandon Madison — 2-27 (13.5 YPR), 23 long
No. 4 Brandon Willis — 2-19 (9.5 YPR), 17 long
No. 7 Thomas Booker — 1-3 (3.0 YPR), three long
TOTAL — 9-68 (7.6 YPR), 23 long