LAS VEGAS — Bishop Gorman’s matchup with Long Beach (Calif.) Poly was supposed to be an air show featuring two five-star quarterbacks. But Gaels running back Biaggio Ali-Walsh stole the show on the ground.
The junior running back, who is the grandson of Muhummad Ali, gained a career-high 211 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns as top-ranked Gorman crushed Poly 52-13 at Fertitta Field.
The marquee quarterback matchup was supposed to pit Gorman’s Tate Martell, who has committed to Texas A&M, and Poly’s Malik Henry, who has committed to Florida State. Henry was set to make his Poly debut after being cleared to play this week.
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Martell made more noise running, gaining 124 yards on 14 carries and rushing for two touchdowns, than throwing; he had one touchdown pass. And Henry, ESPN’s top-rated QB in the 2016 class, didn’t start as Poly’s quarterback; Nolan McDonald did.
Bishop Gorman (4-0) rolled up 588 yards of total offense. Walsh scored on runs of 44, 40 and seven yards and set up another score with a 65-yard breakaway. The game was Gorman’s 28th consecutive victory and fourth straight under Kenny Sanchez, who became head coach this season when his brother Tony left to coach UNLV.
Sanchez said his team powered through, not panicking when the score was close in the first quarter, and then going to work. Especially Walsh.
“There are times where I think everyone, me, the crowd thought he was tackled, then he did a couple of spin moves, broke some good arm tackles and he was off to the races. He’s having a phenomenal year,” he said of Walsh, who entered Friday as Gorman’s leading rusher with 415 yards over three games and a 9.7 yards-per-carry average.
“That’s a testament to our offensive line as well, right? Those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit, but they must be doing something right if he’s getting a bunch of yards. But he’s a great kid and a great running back.”
Like Sanchez, Walsh praised the blockers; the offensive line executed and the fullback executed, holding their blocks so holes could open wide, he said. But he said he shared Sanchez’s amazement at some of his escapes.
“Sometimes it’s a surprise,” he said. “Actually most of the time it’s a surprise, usually when I stay up. I don’t realize it until, you know, I’m actually still running. Our (running backs coach) helps us to keep our feet going, we do drills all the time, that’s what keeps my feet going.”
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McDonald, a junior, had quarterbacked the Jackrabbits to wins in its first two games; in the second game, against Narbonne, he engineered a drive in the final two minutes to bring Poly from behind to win. Poly coach Antonio Pierce had said that McDonald would start despite the hoopla surrounding Henry’s debut.
On Friday, after Gorman scored on its first possession — Martell hit tight end Brevin Jordan for an 11-yard touchdown — Poly had a 7-0 deficit, but also had the ball.
Out came McDonald, as promised, surprising Bishop Gorman’s public address announcer, who mistook him for Henry on the Jackrabbits’ opening offensive play. McDonald directed Poly’s first two possessions, throwing an interception to Gorman defensive end Gavin Pancirov on the first and throwing two incompletions on the second. He would finish the night 0-for-6 passing.
On the Jackrabbits’ third possession, with Gorman ahead 10-0, Henry got his chance. His impact was immediate and powerful. His first pass for Poly was a 64-yard touchdown strike to Jack Jones. Briefly, the game was close, 10-7.
But then Walsh went to work scoring his first touchdown, the seven-yarder, and Gorman was off.
“He’s nice to have back there; can break it at any time obviously,” Martell said of Walsh, who he said runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. “With speed like Biaggio, he has such great balance not many people can take him down.”
Gorman’s defense stopped Poly time and again, forcing five three-and-out series. And the Jackrabbits hurt themselves with more than 150 yards of penalties.
Pierce, a former a former linebacker with the Washington Redskins (2001-04) and New York Giants (2005-09) said he never thought twice about starting McDonald.
“Nolan’s been with us the whole time, he’s been with us all spring, he’s one of our captains, he was our starting quarterback,” he said. “I think both of them had ups and downs (tonight). There are things that Nolan does well and did well in this game. There are things Malik did well. We have a long way to go at both positions. Malik has a lot to learn still about the offense. And that was Nolan’s third start. He has to get better at quarterback.”
Pierce says Henry, who finished the night 12-of-28 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, will battle it out with McDonald for the starter’s job. And he hopes his team gives either a better shot in future games.
“We put them in such a bad situation,” Pierce said, “because defensively we didn’t stop them and it got into a high-scoring game, which we didn’t want it to get to. It put both of them behind the eight ball and it wasn’t fair to them.”