With state title on line, Gorman gets bigger

Even as Bishop Gorman’s football team was closing out the regular season and rolling through the Sunset Region playoffs, the Gaels were missing a big piece of their defensive puzzle.

Gorman got that piece back last week, and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett will get plenty of attention as the Gaels (14-0) take on Liberty (11-1) for the Division I state title at noon today at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“He was missed,” Gorman senior defensive end Michael Geraghty said. “We have a solid D-line, but Haskell is definitely a key player in it.”

The 6-foot-2-inch, 279-pound Garrett is more than just the biggest member of Gorman’s defensive line. The junior also is a physical force, who is able to bully his way into the backfield, but who also is quick enough to chase down ballcarriers outside the tackles. And he draws plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines.

“They definitely adjust for big Haskell,” Geraghty said.

Garrett was in the midst of one of his biggest games of the season against Don Bosco (N.J.), with three sacks in the first half. But he went down with a shoulder injury on that final sack and missed the next four games, including all three Sunset Region playoff games.

He came back for last week’s state semifinal game against Reed, recording two sacks in a 41-13 win. Fellow defensive tackle Gavin Pancirov, who had missed the previous two games, also returned against Reed and also had two sacks.

“To have both of those guys back is huge for us,” Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said. “They’re both really good playmakers.”

Despite the missed time, Garrett leads Gorman with six sacks and is third on the team with 49 tackles. And Liberty coach Rich Muraco knows how important Garrett is to Gorman’s defense.

“He’s a guy that commands a double team and allows them to get their backers off and fill holes better and get more involved in the run game,” Muraco said. “And they can do more exotic blitzes and stuff with him. When he was out, they ran some three-man fronts, and to me, it wasn’t quite as effective as having him in the game.”

Sanchez said Garrett’s presence won’t just be felt on the field, but inside the Gorman locker room.

“Haskell’s a beast up front,” Sanchez said. “And he’s just really smart. And he’s a very coachable kid, and he’s just good to have in the locker room. Not necessarily so much to have on the field, which he’s a really good player, but to have him in the locker room with his attitude and his effort is huge for our morale.”

Garrett’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Gaels, who are seeking their seventh consecutive state title.

“I’ve been out for about a month, and I got blessed to come back for the last two games and compete with my brothers before some of the seniors move on,” Garrett said.

The Gaels remain No. 1 in USA Today’s Super 25 rankings and are seeking a second consecutive mythical national title.

“It’s a great opportunity, another opportunity for us to get better,” Garrett said of playing in the state title game.

“I think it’s an honor. We’re striving for something, a two-peat. And we’re just focusing on the state championship and not any of the other bigger things that are going on.”

Sanchez said he tried to keep the team on its normal preparation routine this week to keep his players grounded.

“That way you’re not getting too out of control mind-wise and start thinking about how big a game this really is,” Sanchez said. “We’re just going about this the same way we have since spring ball.”

Though the second national title remains a possibility, Geraghty said winning state is the team’s priority.

“First of all, we’ve played for the state championship ring for seven years,” Geraghty said. “It’s never been really about the national championship. That’s something that’s mythical and it’s great to have. But it’s always been about this game, and this has been the pinnacle of our season for the last seven years.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters