At 5-foot-2 and 105 pounds, Gateway kicker Jayson Jenkins may be small in stature, but his confidence is huge.
“Routine” was the word the freshman chose to describe his 23-yard field goal at Mansion Park.
Except of course this was a state semifinal, and the score was tied, and there were just seconds left. And, it should be mentioned, Gateway hadn’t attempted a field goal all season.
And Jenkins made it look routine.
After quarterback Brady Walker and wideout Courtney Jackson orchestrated another long drive and led Gateway 74 yards, Jenkins’ kick cleared the uprights with 10 seconds left to defeat Manheim Central, 31-28, in a wild PIAA Class 5A semifinal in Altoona.
Gateway’s dynamic air attack didn’t disappoint. Walker completed 36 of 54 passes for 484 yards and three touchdowns, and Jackson had 14 receptions for 263 yards and two scores that covered 61 and 66 yards.
But on this frigid night, Jenkins was the ultimate hero.
“How about that little guy,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “I don’t want to insult the guy in any way, especially after what he just did. … But he looks like the guy who should be running out to pick up the tee, not kicking the ball off the tee.
“How good was he? That was phenomenal.”
Tied at 28 with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left, Walker led Gateway downfield in 11 plays. The quarterback had directed a 99-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive earlier in the fourth quarter and was trying for another. The Gators had first-and-goal at the 8, but gained just two yards on three plays.
Holl then turned to his kicker.
“I was having mixed emotions about it,” said Jackson, who had two receptions on the game-winning drive. “I trust the kicker, but then again we haven’t kicked one all year.”
Holl used a timeout to set up for the field goal, a sharp angle from the right hash marks, and then Manheim Central used another to ice Jenkins.
“I knew I was going to make it,” Jenkins said. “It was routine. I did it for my team.”
The freshman’s kick sent Gateway to the first state final in team history. The Gators will face defending champion Archbishop Wood at 7 p.m. Friday in Hershey. But Gateway’s trip still wasn’t secured until Manheim Central’s last-second hook-and-lateral play was stopped just 20 yards from the end zone.
With 4 minutes left, Gateway seemed to have the game well in hand. They led 28-21 after Jackson’s second touchdown catch and again had possession deep in Manheim Central territory, looking for another touchdown. But Walker was intercepted at the 17-yard line, and two plays later Manheim Central fullback Colin Erb scored a game-tying 19-yard touchdown run with 3:39 left.
“It was very tough,” Walker said of the interception. “That play right there, that interception, could have cost us the game. I was frustrated but came back with that final drive.”
Gateway had to overcome a few dire moments. For one, the team lost star freshman Derrick Davis to a scary injury in the first quarter. Davis appeared to be kneed in the neck and was taken off the field on a stretcher.
Holl said afterward that Davis was OK.
The Gators already were trailing 14-0 when Davis was injured after Manheim Central scored touchdowns on its first two possessions.
Gateway’s defense stopped another would-be touchdown drive when Jeremiah Josephs recovered a goal-line fumble in the fourth quarter. The Gators recovered at the 1 and then drove 99 yards.