Considering that Friday’s game between Washington and Lowell was the Battle of the Birds, Eagles running back Dhiraj Gurung may as well have been flying.
Gurung put up video game numbers in the Eagles’ 52-34 win over their longtime rivals, catching two touchdowns, running for a third and intercepting three passes. He accounted for 273 yards of total offense on just nine touches.
“Dhiraj means a lot to this team. We’ve got a lot of good guys on this team, but he clearly stands above,” head coach Mike Ramos said. “I don’t know how to verbalize it any other way.”
After Lowell (1-4, 1-1 Academic Athletic Association) erased a two-touchdown deficit to take a 34-32 lead with 8:07 remaining on Gavin Barry-Smith’s touchdown run and Angelo Ornelas’ two-point conversion, Gurung needed just one play to put Washington (6-1, 3-0) in front again, taking a short James Mertz pass and racing 84 yards to the end zone.
“They weren’t sending a linebacker to cover him, and that dump-off pass was open,” Mertz said.
The Eagles followed Gurung’s third score of the day by forcing a three-and-out and extended the lead to two scores on Tommy Mayfield-Commer’s second rushing touchdown of the day, a 15-yard score with 2:21 left. A 5-foot-9, 230-pound junior, Mayfield-Commer also scored on a 45-yard run after the Cardinals had taken a 12-0 lead.
“It’s hard to mess with us,” Mayfield-Commer said. “Dhiraj is fast, and I’m explosive and can run people over.”
The Eagles’ quick-strike ability defined the final minutes of the first half after a slow start, with Washington recording three touchdowns and three takeaways in the final 4:38 of the first half. Two plays after Mayfield-Commer’s touchdown, Ayan Razzak forced a fumble, and he caught Mertz’s first touchdown of the day on the very next play to put the visitors in front. Zach Gillern’s interception kept the Eagles on top, and they needed just three plays to go 92 yards and take a 20-12 lead, with Mayfield-Commer rumbling for 39 yards and Mertz hitting Jefferson Bonilla for a 41-yard score.
“Teams think I just play bully ball, but I can show you some speed,” said Mayfield-Commer, who ran 12 times for 145 yards.
The third quarter almost exclusively belonged to Gurung. He ran for a 49-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half, and after the Cardinals fired back on Shawn Hill’s 36-yard kick return and juggling 25-yard touchdown catch, Gurung took a short Mertz pass 44 yards to extend the lead to 32-18. He followed that up with his second interception, and after Lowell got within six on Ornelas’ 14-yard pass to Stevie Rivas, a hold wiped out what would have been his third touchdown of the quarter.
For a moment, the missed opportunity from that holding call looked like it would torpedo the Eagles’ plans. They had to punt after an Abdullah Alghazawy sack on the last play of the third quarter, and the Cardinals methodically went 60 yards on seven run plays to retake the lead.
Of course, Gurung had an immediate answer.
“He’s like a jetpack,” Lowell head coach Danny Chan said. “Their line isn’t that good, but they have a good scheme and he just takes the space and runs.”
Rigoberto Hernandez’s 46-yard pick-six provided the final margin. Lowell turned the ball over six times in all, with Gurung recording one last pick with 1:25 remaining.
“When we went spread, we had some routes that were wrong,” Chan said of his team’s five interceptions. “Some bunching with the receivers and guys running next to each other. It’s one of those things where guys playing both ways get a little tired.”
Teddy McCarty, who had never played football before his senior year, was a bright spot for the Cardinals, drawing some of the largest cheers from the crowd on his three catches. He finished with 85 receiving yards, 60 of which came on the touchdown to put Lowell up 12-0 late in the first quarter.
“We’re just glad to have that kid,” Chan said. “He’s doing something he’ll probably never get to do again, because basketball’s probably his calling. We just give him a lot of space to be an athlete and go.”
Ornelas completed 10 of 20 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran seven times for 76 yards, including the 39-yard run that opened the scoring. Barry-Smith finished with 77 yards on 21 carries.
Mertz went 6-for-14 for 216 yards and four scores.
“We’re going to celebrate this game today, but we’ve gotta go on to the next,” Mertz said. “Balboa’s a challenge, Lincoln’s a challenge and we’re thinking playoffs and Turkey Bowl.”
Balboa (2-4, 1-1) visits Washington at 3 p.m. next Friday, while Lincoln (3-3, 2-0) makes the trip on Oct. 28. The Mustangs host Lowell next Saturday.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]