Gateway defense stands strong, defeats Penn Hills in Class 5A opening round
Friday, October 30, 2020 | 11:36 PM
Gateway couldn’t score many points Friday night on its home turf, but the Gators didn’t need to. Their defense took matters personally and stonewalled a determined Penn Hills bunch in a physical WPIAL football playoff victory at Antimarino Stadium.
Carsen Engleka passed for 147 yards, and the Gateway defense backed a pair of first-half touchdowns with several strong stands in the red zone for a 14-0 decision in a Class 5A first-round game.
No. 2 Gateway (5-0), whose regular season was cut unusually short by three covid-19 related cancellations, advances to play No. 3 Peters Township in the semifinals Friday night at a site to be determined.
The game is a rematch of the 2019 WPIAL championship, won by Gateway, 21-20.
Gateway, the WPIAL’s second-highest scoring team in Class 5A, was held way below its regular-season average of 40 points per game. No. 7 Penn Hills (4-4) was missing five senior starters.
“There’s not going to be any talk of a championship just now,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “The film is going to give us a lot more to talk about. Like it says on our door, ‘Eliminate bad football’ is one of our goals. We didn’t do that. We created a lot of bad football.”
Perhaps in this case, Penn Hills was responsible for that.
“Credit to those guys. They played awfully hard,” Holl said. “I’m sure some of the things we didn’t do well was because of the impact they had on us. That said, we still have a long way to go.”
Engleka was 14-for-24 passing with a 3-yard touchdown toss to Jayden Hurt in the second quarter. But the junior also threw a pair of interceptions, one when the Gators were driving in Penn Hills territory in the fourth quarter, trying to tack on an insurance score.
Derrick Davis, the celebrated Gateway senior, who is planning to make his college choice next week, rushed for 83 yards on 23 carries and caught four passes for 26 yards. His 2-yard touchdown run gave Gateway a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
“He takes his physical ability to the field and he shows that when we need to make a play, he makes a play for us,” Engleka said. “Derrick helps us a ton, but we’ve got a lot of playmakers all over the ball.”
Davis, who has entertained more than 30 Division I offers to play safety, is expected on Nov. 7 to announce his college commitment from a list that includes Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt and Southern California.
“He’s a special, special talent,” Holl said. “The more we can do to get him the ball, the better we can be. Certainly on defense, he’s a similar kind of guy.”
Engleka added 54 rushing yards on 12 carries, Hurt caught five passes for 45 yards and Chamor Price had three receptions for 39 yards for Gateway.
Amir Key (73 yards) and quarterback Julian Dugger (50), a pair of Penn Hills freshmen, combined to lead the Indians offense with 123 yards rushing, but all of Key’s yardage came in the first half.
“We made some good adjustments up front,” Holl said, “and we made them a one-dimensional team who had trouble blocking with the adjustment we made. That’s a good job there by our defensive staff. We challeged those guys to win the line of scrimmage, and we won more than we did earlier in the game.”
It was a defensive struggle in the second half, which was dotted with turnovers on both sides. Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne didn’t want to claim “moral victory,” but he did … sort of.
“Holding a team like Gateway, with so many athletes, to 14 points, you don’t want to think moral victories.” LeDonne said. “But maybe a little moral victory going into the offseason.”
Why not? A break here and there for Penn Hills easily could’ve altered the outcome.
“Any time you’re missing five senior starters going into the playoffs, the next guy up is a freshman and you open your eyes and say, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” LeDonne said. “But guys stepped up and made some plays. We got dinged up a little, but we’ll just go from here.”
With Gateway clinging to a 14-0 lead, Penn Hills’ Cameron Hopkins intercepted Engleka’s pass and returned it 26 yards to the Gateway 14.
Aided by a pass-interference call, Penn Hills moved to the Gateway 1. But the Gators defense held the Indians and stopped Dugger twice short of the goal line.
“We moved the ball well. We just didn’t finish the drives,” LeDonne said.
After a scoreless third quarter, Gateway looked to be on its way to another score early in the fourth. But the drive was stopped when Jaden Dugger intercepted Engleka’s pass at the Gateway 10.
Gateway accepted the opening kickoff and wasted no time slicing through the Penn Hills defense and turning the game’s first drive into a trip to the end zone, Davis’ 2-yard run giving the Gators a 7-0 lead.
They wasted a prime scoring opportunity early in the second quarter, advancing to the Penn Hills 7 before a bad snap resulted in a failed field-goal try.
But it didn’t take long for Gateway to add on to its slim lead when Price recovered a fumble on a fake punt attempt by Penn Hills and Engleka flipped a 3-yard pass to Hurt into the back of the end zone on the very next play for a 14-0 Gateway advantage.
Penn Hills forced a fumble on a botched handoff in the Gateway backfield, and the Indians recovered at the Gateway 14. But they failed to take advantage, themselves fumbling the ball away, guaranteeing Gateway’s two-touchdown lead at halftime.
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