Gateway defense comes through in clutch to defeat McKeesport
Saturday, October 21, 2017 | 12:30 AM
As the clocked ticked away, as McKeesport was pushing downfield, as Gateway's lead started to feel temporary, Gators junior Jeremiah Josephs started thinking about last November.
He wasn't the only one at Antimarino Stadium with flashback memories of Gateway's last-second loss to McKeesport in the playoffs. Gateway coach Don Holl admitted he did. So, too, did Gators quarterback Brady Walker, who threw three touchdowns Friday but wasn't sure that was enough.
“I was nervous, like, ‘Dang, they're about to take it away from us again,' ” said Josephs, who was the only one in position to make sure they didn't.
The junior intercepted a pass in the end zone with 6 seconds left to seal a 21-18 victory over rival McKeesport. On third-and-goal from the 5, McKeesport's Johnny Harper had tried to float a pass to wingback Carlinos Acie, but Josephs stepped forward and wrestled the football away.
“I made the initial contact (with the ball) and then we both had it,” Josephs said. “When we got on the ground I just ripped it. I was not letting them say they got it. I just ripped it out.”
A year ago, McKeesport won 41-39 in the WPIAL semifinals on a last-second touchdown pass. This time, Josephs had two interceptions in the fourth quarter that stopped McKeesport's final two drives.
His picks were the fifth and sixth turnovers forced by a stingy Gateway defense, which didn't allow an offensive touchdown Friday night. Gators senior Canaan Cleveland recovered two fumbles, Courtney Jackson recovered one and freshman Kelvon Nelson forced two.
“Sometimes you depend on your offense to win, and sometimes you depend on your defense,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “The way our guys were playing, I felt pretty good about our defense being on the field.”
No. 3-ranked Gateway (8-1, 6-1) now holds second place all alone in the Class 5A Big East Conference, ahead of No. 2 McKeesport (6-2, 5-2).
“You start to get scared, but you refuse to let it happen again,” Jackson said. “You just bear down and play D.”
“Last year we were five seconds away (from the WPIAL final), this isn't happening again,” said Walker, who threw three touchdowns, two to Jackson and a 40-yard game-winner to Brandan Cain with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left.
The WPIAL's leading passer completed 17 of 33 attempts for 281 yards. His touchdowns to Jackson covered 35 and 19 yards, the second gave Gateway a 14-11 halftime lead.
They also connected on a crucial 51-yard fourth-quarter reception that led to Cain's go-ahead touchdown.
“I just escaped the pocket and saw my No. 1 receiver (Jackson) beat his man one-on-one,” Walker said of their third-and-10 connection from their own 9-yard line. “I just launched it up and knew he would get it.”
Cain scored two plays later, the 31st touchdown pass for Walker.
Both of McKeesport's touchdowns were scored by its defense, which also had a safety. De'Shon Webb returned a fumble 45 yards during a crazy second-quarter stretch that saw the teams combined for six turnovers in a 14-play span. Gateway lost fumbles on consecutive snaps as the two defenses combined to force eight turnovers.
McKeesport led 18-14 after Marcquis Butler carried a bungled punt 5 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. But the Tigers offense never found the end zone. The closest it came was 37-yard touchdown run by Harper that was negated by penalty late in the third.
Harper rushed for 141 yards on 20 carries.
McKeesport's triple-option offense consumed the clock but stalled in the red zone. The Tigers reached the 7-yard line and settled for a 28-yard field goal on their first possession. Their second possession ended with a failed fourth-and-goal at the 4.
“I think you know where I went to college,” said Holl, a Naval Academy graduate, “and they run an offense like this. I spent four or five days in the spring with their defensive coordinator saying how do you stop each other in the spring? How do you stop Air Force? How do you stop Army? I'm sure we don't do it as well as they do, but we got some really good ideas.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .