‘Simply magical’: Gonzaga Prep stars look back at GSL’s first state football championship 40 years ago

In 1982, the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups did something no other Greater Spokane League football team had accomplished. They won the state championship.

There had been close calls before. In 1977, Gonzaga Prep lost to Sumner 12-7 in the championship game; in ’78 Sumner beat Lewis and Clark 3-0 in the state semifinals. West Valley (1976) and East Valley (1981) both won the Border League/Frontier League Kingbowl Championship, but no GSL team had lifted the championship since the WIAA instituted the playoff format in 1973.

Eastern Washington teams, especially at the big-school level, were considered second-rate.

“It was actually brought up quite a bit — and my dad still talks about it,” said Jamie FitzGerald, an All-GSL defensive end on that 1982 G-Prep team. “He was upset that the Seattle Times was really biased toward South Kitsap and how the east side didn’t play football here. We had teams, but we weren’t competitive.

“Don Anderson (G-Prep head coach) was really good at subtly putting that message into us. A lot of us went into that game with an attitude of ‘we’re going to show you.’

Of course the Bullpups showed them. Gonzaga Prep defeated nationally ranked South Kitsap 25-7. “I don’t think they were ever in the game,” FitzGerald said.

First-team All-GSL selection Fred Ulowetz was the star of the game, at least on offense. Running the offense with a swing arm from the running back position, he gained 146 yards on 23 carries. There was also a big passing game. For Ulowetz, the highlight of the game was FitzGerald’s catch for a touchdown.

“He made the most amazing diving catch on a TD pass I threw to him in that championship game! Unbelievable catch!” said Ulowetz.

“I think we were up 18-7. We had fourth-and-goal and Coach Anderson called Fred and I to the sideline,” FitzGerald said. After discussing what to run, Anderson asked both players if they thought they could handle it. Both said yes.

“It was a pretty good throw and catch. Fred just got destroyed on the play and threw a great ball and I went after it and caught it and that sealed the game,” FitzGerald said.

“I think his throw was amazing or I wouldn’t have gotten there. That’s the way I look at it.”

“That was the last time the wind was knocked out of me,” Ulowetz said. “I was down for several minutes trying to catch air and only saw his amazing replay catch on the huge video screen they had in the Dome.”

FitzGerald and Ulowetz shared those memories and several others in e-mails and phone interviews last week.

Ulowetz played at Wyoming after high school before a recurring shoulder injury convinced him to give up football. He transferred to Eastern Washington and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. The retired Snohomish County deputy sheriff lives with his wife of 31 years in Marysville, Washington. They have two grown children.

FitzGerald played defensive back at Idaho State and spent three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, where he said he spent most of his time driving back and forth from the team cab. He lives in Spokane Valley and owns a business in Idaho that sells ignition interlock systems. He is still involved in football. His son J.T. FitzGerald, played three seasons with the Spokane Shock and Jamie is the defensive coordinator at Ridgeline High School.

There were plenty of stars on that Bullpups team, not just Ulowetz and FitzGerald. Current Gonzaga University baseball coach Mark Machtolf was named GSL Lineman of the Year as a tight end; quarterback/defensive back Dan (Booner) McCanna played at Idaho; and sophomore running back Aaron Robb played at Notre Dame.

FitzGerald and junior teammate Rick Phillips made up at least 11 Bullpups to play at the Division I level:

Seniors, Class of ’83: FitzGerald (Idaho State), Machtolf (Stanford), McCanna (Idaho), Ulowetz (Wyoming). John Cippola and Kevin Corbett also played at lower division schools.

Juniors, Class of ’84: Phillips (Idaho), John Pleas (Idaho), Pete Wilkins (Idaho). Mark Scroggins could play in a lower division.

Sophomores, Class of ’85: David Hawkins (Washington), Joe Mark (Washington), Robb (Notre Dame), Nick Volk (Washington State).

Many of those players and other teammates are sure to share more memories from 40 years ago when team members gather in January for induction into the Gonzaga Prep Hall of Fame.

Not all memories are positive. Take, for example, the low point FitzGerald mentioned in the season-opening loss to Coeur d’Alene:

“We lost to Coeur d’Alene in our season opener. I have no rhyme or reason for that loss other than I threw a pass on the play that Fred gave us that would have tied or put us ahead – I can’t remember which. I’m 57 years old, I played in college, I was an All-Big Sky player, I played in the NFL and I still remember that damn game where I dropped the ball.

After a loss to Coeur d’Alene, which won the Idaho large schools state championship, Gonzaga Prep qualified for the Greater Spokane League — with one exception, a 14-0 loss to Shadle Park in the middle of the season. Two-way starters FitzGerald and Machtolf both missed the game and were hospitalized with injuries.

“The Shadle Park loss changed everything. We really didn’t know how good we were before that game at Shadle and if you look at the scoreline I bet we didn’t have a lot of points scoring a lot of points for us,” FitzGerald said. “We were really focused and got down to business. My personal opinion is that we would have beaten anyone in the country, any high school team.

“We were so focused. That dedicated. We worked together as a team. Everybody liked each other. Great coaching staff. I don’t know what more you could ask for.”

By the time G-Prep reached the playoffs, the team was really in the game. First, Kamiakin defeated 40-17, then Walla Walla and Bellarmine Prep (19-0 and 16-0, respectively) fell by the wayside. That left only South Kitsap, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 4 nationally, as USA Today Ulowetz remembers, undefeated.

McCanna and Robb ran for short touchdowns and an “amazing” touchdown by Ulowetz and FitzGerald finished it off and G-Prep brought home its first GSL state championship.

“It was probably one of the most fun, rewarding and awesome times of our lives just because so many people were involved in our success. Not just the team, the coaches, but the school, the cheerleaders, the team leaders…it was just the most magical season to finally have it,” Ulowetz said.

“When we were at the Kingdome, it was just incredible to play where your NFL idols were playing. Just made it so special. And the lifelong friendships we have from Prep this year; not only the seniors, but the sophomores and many juniors.

“This year was just magical. It was one of the most fun times of my life.”

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