Defensive effort guides Gateway in opening-round win

Sunday, November 8, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Survive and advance.

That is statement often uttered when it comes to WPIAL playoff football.

Gateway followed that mantra against Penn Hills in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Oct. 30 at Antimarino Stadium.

While the offense was held below its four-game regular-season average of 40 points, the Gators defense shut down any attempt by the Indians to put points on the board.

“First and foremost, a team never lost a game where the other team didn’t score,” Holl said of his team’s defensive performance against the Indians. “I give a lot of credit to the guys for getting the shutout against a team like Penn Hills who can really put points on the board. That is tough to do at any level of football at any time.

“Situationally, we had some turnovers and some short fields created that put the defense in some pretty compromising positions, and they were able to battle through it and keep Penn Hills off the scoreboard. That is important in any game, especially the playoffs, when your defense can rise up and react to adversity.”

A first-half touchdown run from Derrick Davis and a scoring pass from quarterback Carsen Engleka to Jayden Hurt before halftime was all Gateway needed in the 14-0 victory that propelled the No. 2 seed into the WPIAL semifinals and a date with undefeated and No. 3 Peters Township.

The game at Antimarino Stadium, a rematch of last year’s championship clash at Norwin won by Gateway, 21-20, was to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

The Gators hoped to advance to the WPIAL title game for the third time in four years.

Gateway entered the playoffs after a regular season unlike any other in program history.

The Gators got their truncated schedule off to a flying start with a 41-7 Big East Conference victory over Franklin Regional before routing Bethel Park, 55-14, the next week.

Then, coronavirus issues in the Gateway School District caused the program to halt activities. Games against Pine-Richland and Latrobe were nixed.

After that, Penn-Trafford faced coronavirus issues, and their annual conference clash was postponed before being outright canceled.

However, Gateway came away from the three-week layoff from game action with a hard-fought 21-16 victory over playoff-qualifier Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena.

A 43-12 triumph against Connellsville in the regular-season finale kept Gateway undefeated at 4-0 and convinced the playoff pairings committee to award the Gators the No. 2 seed.

“We went into the time off trying to manage situations, but there was no real playbook for that,” Holl said.

“The kids often are creatures of routine, and coaches get caught up in wanting to be as consistent as possible with regards to that routine. The world hasn’t been very consistent. We were off for the better part of a month, and it was great to be back on the field playing. We knew going into a tough environment like the Wolvarena, we had to be at our best against a really storied program and rival.”

Davis scored five touchdowns against Connellsville. That put him at 76 for his high school career and surpassed Justin King for No. 1 on the all-time list at Gateway.

King, a 2005 Gateway graduate who went on the star at Penn State and play in the NFL, recorded 74 career touchdowns.

Davis, a celebrated senior who accumulated nearly three-dozen Division I offers, planned to make his college choice known last Saturday with an announcement in the company of family and friends.

Through the recruiting process, he whittled down his choices to LSU, Ohio State and Penn State. Teams Davis had been considering in a final group included Pitt and Georgia.

“Derrick has an opportunity like very few players have, and Derrick is a player like very few players are,” Holl said.

“He has shown he is an elite talent, and he also is an elite person, and I am happy for him that he will have the chance to do great things at the next level.”

With the Connellsville win, the 2020 senior class set the all-time Gateway record for wins. They added to the mark — now at 43-6 — with the Penn Hills playoff victory.

The classes of 1988, 1989, 2010 and 2011 all had 41 wins.

“When you think of all the great teams Gateway has produced over the years with the championships, the wins and the success, it’s just a great tip of the cap to this year’s senior class for what they’ve done the past four years. To be in that conversation with some of the great teams coached by Pete Antimarino or Terry Smith, it’s pretty neat stuff.”

When the WPIAL reconfigured each team’s schedules, the conference matchup with Franklin Regional was moved from the end of the season to the opener. As a result, the nonconference clash with Penn Hills set for that date, Sept. 11, was canceled.

Fate was on the side of both teams as the WPIAL committee paired up the Indians and Gators in the first round.

“That is a game, as rivalries go, should be played, and we’re glad they are on the schedule,” Holl said.

“We didn’t get to play the one in the regular season, but sometimes things work out, and we were able to play them after all. That is a game both fan bases look forward to.”

Gateway and Penn Hills are scheduled to play again next fall under the WPIAL’s two-year schedule cycle.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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