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3 years later, Bishop Gorman back playing for state title

Updated November 17, 2021 - 4:28 pm

For football players at a place like Bishop Gorman, playing for state championships is the norm.

The Gaels won 10 straight state titles from 2009 to 2018, the last coming in a 69-26 domination of Bishop Manogue in 2018 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Who could have believed that day the next time Gorman reached a state championship game would be three years later and with an entire roster that has never started in one?

“It’s a really crazy situation,” Gorman coach Brent Browner said. “I think it was just Zion (Branch) who played during that game, but these kids have come out and proved their worth to the point of being a state championship team. Now we have to go finish the job, finish the mission against a good team from McQueen.”

The Gaels (11-1), who wrapped up the Class 5A Southern Region championship by beating Liberty 35-14 last week, will look to grab another state title at 12:20 p.m. Thursday at Allegiant Stadium.

It’s hard to imagine a team could experience a letdown in a game for a state championship. But that’s something Gorman has to guard against after last week’s emotional win, one it had waited for since Liberty beat the Gaels 30-24 in overtime in the 2019 Desert Region championship game to wrest away the top spot in the state.

The Gaels hope the fact that they get to play for the title at Allegiant Stadium will help get them back up emotionally.

“This is my first time playing in an NFL stadium, so I’m definitely going to take it all in when we get there,” said Branch, a Gorman senior safety. “It’s going to be a great experience, and I can’t wait for it. That’s one thing I’ve been telling the guys is don’t take this for granted because a lot of teams don’t get this opportunity.”

McQueen (10-1), the Northern Region champion, edged Bishop Manogue last week to earn the right to play for the title.

In some ways it’s all come full circle for Browner, who was a first-year defensive backs coach in 2007 when Gorman met McQueen for the title, a 38-17 Gorman win. Now Browner is in his first full season as the Gaels’ head coach.

“It’s totally different (being the head coach),” Browner said. “It’s a great challenge, but there’s no better place to do it than with kids who are totally bought in all the time. It’s a great environment. I’m excited to see the fulfillment of all their hard work over the past few years.”

McQueen is led by a two-way standout in quarterback and outside linebacker Robby Snelling, who has scholarship offers from several Southeastern Conference schools suh asLouisiana State, and a dynamic running back in Ashton Hayes, a Nebraska commit.

The Gaels are certain to be locked in on both of them, but will have to contend with a big offensive line that has paved the way for 1,724 yards and 24 touchdowns. In all, McQueen has run the ball 72 percent of the time.

“They like to run the ball a lot, and we like to stop the run,” Gorman linebacker Palaie Faoa said.

Faoa said while the Gaels are hungry to get a state championship for themselves, they’re also doing it for those who came before.

They’re particularly playing for last year’s seniors, who didn’t have a chance to compete for a state championship after COVID-19 shut down the 2020 season.

“It means a lot to us. But it also means a lot to all of our older brothers who graduated, especially the Class of 2021 who didn’t get the chance after we lost to Liberty, so it’s special,” Faoa said.

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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