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No. 8 Spalding moves past demons, upsets No. 2 Gonzaga by finally getting it done at the goal line

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/25/2021 Jake Lourim
Spalding quarterback Nick Gutierrez flips into the end zone for one of his three touchdowns Friday against Gonzaga. © Jake Lourim/TWP Spalding quarterback Nick Gutierrez flips into the end zone for one of his three touchdowns Friday against Gonzaga.

Demons don’t go quietly, and on Friday they crept up on Archbishop Spalding at the worst possible time. The Cavaliers had fallen short near the goal line for years, and they had to put away their biggest win of the season at the goal line. Their 13-point lead had been cut to three, and Gonzaga was within five yards of the end zone with a chance to win. With a slight wince, Spalding Coach Kyle Schmitt said afterward, “I was reliving” those dreadful memories from years past.

But this Spalding team is different. The Cavaliers made the critical plays that clinched a 20-13 overtime upset of No. 2 Gonzaga.

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Schmitt had seen this movie before: A talented team gets off to a hot start and then aims for a crowning victory against a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse, only to fall short. It happened in 2017, when Spalding led Good Counsel 21-0 and lost 37-21; it happened again in a rematch the next year, when the Cavaliers were tied at 35 before a thunderstorm moved in and stopped the game.

In 2019, Spalding rolled to a 3-0 start with a 43-29 win against Bullis before welcoming Good Counsel. Those Cavaliers gave the Falcons all they could handle. But they came up empty twice inside the 10-yard line, and sure enough, they lost, 21-7.

“Good Counsel years ago, we always came up short,” senior Lavain Scruggs recalled. “Thunderstorm cut the game before it was up. This was another game, and we came out on top this time.”

Only once, in the chapel before Friday’s game, did Schmitt mention those previous setbacks. Those teams didn’t match up physically with their WCAC foes, he said. This team did. No. 8 Spalding (5-0) was unbeaten, having outscored opponents 175-26 before Gonzaga (3-2) arrived for what would be either the end of the curse or the Cavaliers’ most demoralizing loss yet.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers returned a fumble recovery to within three yards of a clinching touchdown, but in a near shot-for-shot remake of the 2019 loss to Good Counsel, the Cavaliers moved back to the 8-yard line, then to the 13, then to the 20, where they turned over the ball on downs. Then Gonzaga drove toward the other goal line, within five yards of a game-winning touchdown. Spalding’s defense made the stand, forcing a tying field goal and overtime.

On the first play of overtime, Spalding quarterback Nick Gutierrez hurried in untouched for his third touchdown. Then, once more near the goal line, the defense made its own goal-line stand.

Nick Gutierrez scored three TDs for Spalding against Gonzaga. © Jake Lourim/TWP Nick Gutierrez scored three TDs for Spalding against Gonzaga.

“We preach that we’re the toughest team in Maryland, and tonight we just had something to prove,” Gutierrez said. “We played with an edge. We knew that we had to come into this game wanting it more. We knew there was a lot of hype coming into this game, but we had to trust one another, and we did that tonight.”

With those demons quiet for the night, as he thought about how he moved on from those past losses, Schmitt looked toward the sky and joked, “Deep meditation.”

Then he thought for another moment and said, “I think you learn from it,” and that’s what Spalding did.

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