Davis, Venanzio power Gateway football team past Mt. Lebanon

Saturday, August 24, 2019 | 12:49 AM

Bob Palko’s debut as Mt. Lebanon’s coach quickly turned into the Derrick Davis show.

Davis, Gateway’s highly touted junior running back and safety, scored four times, racking up 277 yards of total offense, leading Class 5A No. 1 Gateway (1-0) to a 46-20 victory over Mt. Lebanon (0-1).

“He’s special. He’s real special,” said Gators starting quarterback Bryson Venanzio, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 252 yards and three scores in his first start with Gateway since transferring from Kiski before last season. “I’m happy to be on his team and not against him anymore.”

The night was a bit of revenge for the Gators, who surprisingly lost to West Allegheny, then coached by Palko, in last year’s WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hang our heads about,” Palko said. “We don’t have a Derrick Davis. They do. He’s a stud, he’s awesome and he’s not their only one.”

Palko is right about that.

Gateway senior Jaquan Thomas ran for 84 yards and caught five passes for 79 yards, including a touchdown. Chamor Price ran for 76 and a score, and Patrick Body pulled in a spectacular, leaping touchdown grab. The Gators piled up 593 yards of offense.

But it was Davis who got the Gators rolling on the opening possession, rushing 35 yards for a touchdown to cap a 10-play drive.

The game then took a dramatic swing in Gateway’s favor. Venanzio hit Thomas from 21 yards early in the second quarter to extend Gateway’s lead to 13-0. Mt. Lebanon’s Maurice Plummer fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Gateway’s Zach Smith recovered. On the next snap, Venanzio found Body for a 24-yard touchdown.

“It’s not so much the turnovers, it’s what results from the turnovers,” Gateway coach Don Hill said of the play that led to two touchdowns in 14 seconds. “If you can take a turnover and put points on the board, it really makes a difference.”

The teams then exchanged blows.

Mt. Lebanon responded with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Joey Daniels to Mason Ventrone. Davis went in from 57 yards to pull Gateway’s advantage back to 20 points.

At halftime, with only 88 yards of offense to his team’s ledger, Palko changed quarterbacks, bringing senior Evan Jones into the game. He immediately orchestrated a six-play scoring drive, capped by Drew Vaughn’s 1-yard plunge.

But, again, Davis had an answer. This time it was through the air, as Venanzio hit him in stride for a 75-yard touchdown, pushing the Gateway lead to 34-14.

The Blue Devils stayed alive with a 2-yard run by Jones. However, consecutive one-play drives, with a 64-yard touchdown run by Price and then another by Davis, put the game away.

“The idea is to try to get guys the ball that can make plays,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “We made sure the guy who needs to get it, got it in certain situations tonight. He produced.”

Palko spent the last 24 years at West Allegheny, winning a record eight championships as coach. He intended to retire after last season but took the Mt. Lebanon job in February. The newness and change of colors was not what he found unusual Friday night.

“What was odd was that it takes time to get to know kids,” he said. “You can’t rush time. But it was good. It was football.”

With the Week Zero win, Gateway moves into what could be its biggest game of the season as it travels to Penn-Trafford next week.

“Big one,” Holl said. “But I’m not lying when I tell you that we’re going to enjoy the heck out of this one … Then we’ve got to get to work on the next one.”

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