Franklin Regional slowed by Gateway defense in Big East loss

Friday, October 27, 2017 | 10:45 PM

Throughout most of the regular season, Gateway chewed through Class 5A Big East Conference on the backs of their high-powered offense.

But Friday night at Franklin Regional, the Gators (9-1, 7-1) took home the 33-17 victory against the Panthers (6-3, 5-3) thanks to a strong defensive performance that included touchdowns on a fumble recovery and a blocked punt.

“We have some very good athletes on defense that are mentally tough and physically tough,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “They have all the things you want on defense. We've done some good things in spots, but I think they really got their feet under them last week against McKeesport.

“They were good last week, and I think it carried over to this game a bit. I think they're peaking at the right time ahead of the playoffs.”

The win for Gateway clinches second place in their section and home field advantage in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

The Gators yielded 193 yards of total offense.

Freshman Derrick Davis had a coming out party, scooping up a fumble and scoring on a blocked punt in addition to recording a sack. In backup duties, Davis rushed eight times for 70 yards, including a 28-yard score.

“I've told a lot of people what everyone in our community already knows about him: He's really good,” Holl said. “He has the potential to be the next great one, and it was good to see him have a little bit of a breakout tonight.”

On offense, quarterback Brady Walker led the way, throwing for 174 yards and two scores. The senior finished the regular season 118 yards behind Avonworth's Zach Chandler's 2,812 yards.

Courtney Jackson starred on the receiving end, catching seven passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

While the numbers for Walker and Jackson look impressive, Franklin Regional's defense did a solid job of limiting Gateway's big-play opportunities. Holding the WPIAL's leading passer to 174 yards is no small feat, but it was the big plays that made the difference for the Gators.

“We put some new things in for the passing game,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “It worked out, but it did hurt us a little bit in situations where Gateway ran the football. The two big plays were the bad snap and fumble and the punt block for a touchdown.”

The Panthers offense was jump-started in the fourth quarter by running back Stephen Johns, who finished with 17 rushes for 94 yards. Quarterback Adam Rudzinski scored on a 1-yard rush, and Franklin Regional's other score came on a 35-yard punt return by Devon Powell.

The WPIAL Class 5A playoffs are still on the horizon for Botta's team, however, and he said it will come out determined to make the most of its second season.

“I tell them that it's a new season,” he said. “We make mistakes, and we have to correct those mistakes. Look at the film and we'll find out what we did wrong, but come back and be ready to start a whole new season. We just have to win two games, and we'll be at Heinz field.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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