Gaels’ Cunningham, diminutive counterpart Denn propel finalists with dual-threat talents

A quick glance at Bishop Gorman’s Randall Cunningham and Reed’s Chris Denn reveals few similarities.

Cunningham is the son of the former NFL star with the same name and stands out on the Gorman sideline. He is listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 184 pounds and appears to be even taller. Denn is listed at 5-9, 185, and the height might be generous.

But scratch below the surface, and you’ll find two senior quarterbacks with more in common than you might imagine. Both have emerged as dual threats and have led their teams to the Division I state title game in their only season as a starter.

The teams meet at 1:07 p.m. today at Sam Boyd Stadium. Gorman (12-2) is going for its fifth consecutive state title.

“It’s great being a first-year starter to go out here and be able to try to lead my team to another state championship and be able to just have the success that we’ve had so far,” Cunningham said. “I feel like this week will be a great week to finish out my senior season.”

Cunningham has drawn the interest of several college programs. He’s completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 1,662 yards and 15 touchdowns. An elite high jumper, he has displayed that athleticism in the running game, where he’s rushed for 1,211 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“To watch Cunningham running around, that sure is fun to watch,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “That kid is just an incredible athlete. It’s been really cool watching film on that guy and seeing him progress over the last couple years.”

Denn might not pass the eye test like Cunningham, but his performance has been just as good. He’s completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,619 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s the second-leading rusher for Reed (12-1) with 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns.

“Chris is what’s great about high school athletics,” Howren said. “A 5-7 kid’s not going to be playing quarterback at the next level. His preparation going into the season and how hard he’s worked throughout the year, he’s put himself in this situation. All the credit goes to Chris.”

Howren said 217-pound running back Jordan DeLeon (1,779 rushing yards, 33 TDs) attracts a lot of the attention, opening up room for Denn.

“He’s actually a real good runner,” Gorman safety Armand Perry said. “They run a lot of read option, and he likes to keep it, and he breaks a lot of tackles and makes a lot of good plays.”

Cunningham has been making plays all season, but has looked more and more comfortable throughout the season. The first-year starter struggled at times against the tough out-of-state teams on Gorman’s schedule.

“I’d argue to say he probably had the toughest first six games of a high school career that any quarterback ever had,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “He is Randall Cunningham, so a lot of times we all get carried away with his ability and talent. But you’ve got to remember, that’s still a 17-year-old kid. We played as tough a six-game stretch as any team in America, and those were his first six starts.”

Sanchez said Cunningham has started to trust his teammates more, especially in the running game, where the Gaels rotate three backs. Daniel Stewart leads the team with 877 rushing yards and 17 TDs, but Russell Booze (868 yards, 15 TDs) and Jonathan Shumaker (541 yards, eight TDs) also are strong options.

“He understands that his teammates are going to make some big plays, and he doesn’t have to do it all by himself,” Sanchez said. “But I tell you what, when he decides to make a play, he sure makes a play. He’s made me look good a couple times this year, that’s for sure.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at (702) 380-4587 or dseiters@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.

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