Gateway defense has all the answers in rout of McKeesport

Friday, October 25, 2019 | 11:52 PM

McKeesport had little trouble scoring in its previous five victories, averaging more than 40 points per game. None of those opponents, however, had defenses as stingy as Gateway’s on Friday night. The Gators had only given up 35 points in Class 5A’s Big East Conference all year.

That defense stifled the Tigers by forcing three first-half turnovers and turning them into touchdowns as Gateway defeated McKeesport 36-7 at George L. Smith Field. The Gators (5-1, 8-2) also limited the hosts to only 45 yards of total offense in the first half while taking second place in the conference standings.

Those early defensive efforts by the Gators helped stake their lead, but Gateway coach Don Holl was quick to credit the Tigers (4-2, 7-3) for their efforts.

“That’s a great football team. They’re a great football program led by a great head coach and coaching staff,” Holl said. “We have battles with them every year. They’re outstanding in a lot of different ways, so it’s a real credit to our defense to find ways to stop them and get some takeaways. More important than getting takeaways is converting them into points.”

McKeesport coach Matt Miller echoed those comments about the turnovers that hurt the Tigers early in the game.

“We thought we were ready to play. We thought we had a good plan and we just didn’t execute,” Miller said. “The two turnovers really hurt. Down 14-0 to a team like that, you knew you were going to be in an uphill battle. You had to score quick to try to match points with them, and you really don’t want to play a team like that trying to match points.”

McKeesport received the opening kick and started with great field position at its own 41-yard line. The Tigers forced a penalty on Gateway right away and were able to pick up a first down despite almost losing a fumble. On third-and-11, quarterback Devari Robinson’s pass was batted and then intercepted by Tui Brown, who rumbled 48 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes into the game.

On McKeesport’s first play of its next possession, Robinson’s pitch did not connect with his running back and was recovered by Jay Johnson. Four plays later, Derrick Davis scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns on a 4-yard run. It was 14-0 less than four minutes into the game.

The Tigers offense continued to struggle and had to punt on its next possession. The Gators kept coming, embarking on a 17-play drive that ate up over 7 ½ minutes and included two fourth-down conversions. However, McKeesport forced a Davis fumble that was recovered at the Tigers’ 11-yard line by Taevion Baker.

From there, field position became a factor as Gateway kept the Tigers pinned near their own end zone. The teams traded punts, which led to Robinson throwing his second interception of the game, this time to the Gators’ Sonny Comunale.

“We were stuck inside our 10 for two, three series,” Miller said. “I thought we did a good job holding them out and causing the fumble, but we just couldn’t get the ball moving.”

Davis ended that possession with a 1-yard score with just 33 seconds left in the half. On the drive, Gateway converted another fourth down and took a 21-0 lead into the half.

“We spend time in the summer because this is a unique offense to defend,” Holl said. “Different weeks to try to steal some extra work on it. With all the film you get, you make tweaks here and there. A lot of credit goes to our defensive coordinator Mortty Ivy.”

Robinson finally got McKeesport on the board with an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. However, any chance at a comeback was squashed by two more Gateway scoring drives in the second half.

The Tigers lost cornerback Vernon Andrews in the third quarter as he was carted off with an apparent head injury. According to Miller, he was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated.

Both teams have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs and will host a first-round game Friday.

“We’re going to celebrate this one. We have a pizza party Monday night for the announcement,” Holl said. “Then we’ll get to work on who it is. Five-A is so deep. We’re not going to take anyone for granted.”

“We’ll be somewhere in that middle area,” Miller said. “If we would have won tonight, it’s a different story. Then you’re thinking maybe a pretty high seed. If we’re home, I’ll be happy.”

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