Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer go across the valley and break down the upcoming week of high school. They give their picks on every game and spend extra time debating Del Sol vs. Liberty and Servite (Calif.) vs. Bishop Gorman.
Even though the Bishop Gorman High football team lost this highly anticipated football game, one could easily argue the two-time defending Nevada state champion Gaels picked up a major victory in the court of public perception.
That was one of the benefits of the then-relatively unknown Gorman program introducing itself to a national audience during an ESPN game.
While Gorman lost at the end of August to Florida power Armwood High by three points, the feeling was the only place the Gaels were defeated was on the scoreboard. The program’s state-of-the-art facility, its spirited student cheering section and solid brand of football became more of the talk than a narrow defeat.
But, in a testament of the respect Gorman gained through its loss to Armwood, the Gaels are No. 10 by ESPN. In some rankings, they are slotted higher than before the Armwood game.
“Anybody that questioned whether or not if we could play with the top teams in the country, that question got answered,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “There is always going to be critics and skeptics who said you didn’t win the game. But the end of the day, it really doesn’t make a difference what those outside people think. There is a real small population of people that only have a voice because they have a laptop.”
Before the showing against Armwood, several outsiders felt Gorman’s success was the result of the weak competition it played locally. A team from Nevada wasn’t expected to hang with someone from mighty Florida or California. But Gorman did just that, indirectly becoming the face of Nevada football — after all, the two appearances this fall on ESPN are one more time than UNLV.
“You never know how things will turn out and (playing on ESPN) was one of those things where it actually turned out better than anyone expected as far as the quality of game that was played that night and the atmosphere,” Sanchez said. “Since I have been at Gorman I have never seen a crowd like that. We’ve had full crowds before, but we have never had that spirited of a crowd.”
Since the Armwood game, Gorman (5-1) has coasted through Southwest Division play, beating four opponents by a combined 244-13. Last week, they played their starters through the third quarter in a 74-6 win against Sierra Vista, playing the first string one quarter longer than most local games as a tune-up for Servite.
Returning to the level of play required to compete at a national level is easier said than done.
That’s why Gorman spends a good part of practice every Tuesday playing each other, with the first string offense trying to score against the first string defense. It’s arguably the best form of competition Gorman will receive locally until the second round of the playoffs in November.
“Every day we are coming out and competing against each other,” senior linebacker Ben Guida said. “Like coach says, it’s not the result of the game, it’s how we perform. We are making sure we win the game on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the way we prepare.”
This will be Gorman’s fifth game the last two years against a top-10 opponent. In each of the previous four games, senior running back Shaquille Powell has been the Gaels’ most productive player, including scoring six touchdowns in a 42-22 victory against Chaparral High of Scottsdale, Ariz., to open the season.
Gorman has a 1-3 record in past national contests, but has had leads in all four games and could easily be undefeated.
“I think we will make less mental mistakes,” Powell said. “I think we will be more consistent on our drives and not have to catch back up like we had to do previously. I think overall we are just looking better.”
It’s just might be tougher to look better than their like appearance on ESPN.
“The thing is, when you go back and watch the film, we out-gained them, we had more yards rushing and, more yards passing and more first downs,” Sanchez said. “There was a couple plays in the first half where we could have got points on the board, and there was one breakdown on defense where we gave up a big play. Really, we played a real solid football game against a good team. The clock just ran out. We were right in the situation to win that football game.”