Gateway keeps focus on championship opportunities

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Thursday, September 3, 2020 | 10:40 PM


Gateway captured a WPIAL championship last year, its second district football title in three years and seventh in the storied history of the program.

The Gators return this season with similar intentions, and they also hope to make another run to Hershey after falling in the state semifinals a season ago.

“We were so close to playing for the state title again,” Gators senior standout Derrick Davis said.

The Gators, who finished 12-3 overall in 2019, clipped Peters Township, 21-20, in the WPIAL Class 5A title game before coming up short against eventual state champion Archbishop Wood, 24-21, just one step from Hershey.

The game was a rematch of the 2017 state title contest, also won by Archbishop Wood.

“It was frustrating losing to the same team twice,” Davis said. “It was more motivation for what we’ve done in the offseason. It put us in a different mindset. The goal always is the same — to win championships.”

Gateway coach Don Holl said he likes the way his players are coming together as they continue to get ready for the season.

“We did a little bit of catching up when we returned to workouts, like everyone was doing, but we got in good workouts from the start,” Holl said. “Our older guys like Derrick, (senior Chamor Price and senior Jacques Taylor) know everything that we’re doing, and the younger guys have really been picking things up.”

When the WPIAL made coronavirus-related changes to the schedule, Gateway lost a scrimmage against Belle Vernon and a Week Zero game against Maryland’s Archbishop Spaulding. A nonconference game with defending WPIAL Class 4A champion Thomas Jefferson scheduled for Sept. 4 became a scrimmage.

The Oct. 30 conference game with Franklin Regional is the new opener Sept. 11, and a nonconference game with rival Penn Hills has been eliminated.

Because the Gators play only five conference games, nonconference contests with Bethel Park (Sept. 18) and Pine-Richland (Sept. 25) remain.

“It’s not the way we would’ve hoped with the premium schedule we had in place and a great opener against a team from out of state, but everyone is just happy to still have something to look forward to and prepare for,” Holl said. “We still have a very challenging schedule, no doubt.”

Davis, rated four stars by Rivals, earned all-state honors last year at running back. He totaled 30 offensive touchdowns. The safety on defense owns nearly three dozen Division I offers.

“Derrick is an elite athlete with an elite work ethic and a great attitude,” Holl said. “We expect him to have nothing less than another great season for us. He’s a generational talent who comes along once in a great while. Before he is done, he’s going to have a lot of career records.”

Price hauled in five touchdowns last year as a junior, including a crucial catch in the rainy WPIAL championship contest at Norwin.

Taylor, a first-team all-conference pick last year, is back to anchor the offensive and defensive lines.

Junior Patrick Body (wide receiver/defensive back) has garnered Division I attention. He caught key touchdown passes in WPIAL playoff wins over Bethel Park and Peters Township.

Other veteran players back to help lead the team include seniors Jayden Hurt (wide receiver/defensive back), Kelvon Nelson (offensive line/defensive tackle), Shane Thrift (wide receiver/defensive back) and Jason Jenkins (place kicker); and junior Aiden Smith (running back/linebacker).

Holl said junior Carsen Engleka and senior Bonzi Parks have been competing to see who will take over at quarterback for the graduated Bryson Venanzio.

“Both are looking good,” Holl said.

Holl expects senior tight end/defensive lineman/linebacker Diego Bledsoe to make an impact. Bledsoe was ruled ineligible for last season by the WPIAL and PIAA after transferring from Steel Valley.

Others hoping to raise some eyebrows in increased roles are junior Jermir Harber and sophomores Malachi Moore and Demetrius Harper.

“We have a lot of good kids who have worked really hard for their opportunity and are ready to shine,” Holl said. “We love the competition. Iron sharpens iron.”

Holl said he appreciates the challenges of the conference, which features the return of Woodland Hills and the departures of Plum and McKeesport to Class 4A. Gateway last played the Wolverines in a conference game in 2007.

“There’s been so many memorable games between (Gateway and Woodland Hills) in conference or in the playoffs in the old Quad-A,” Holl said. “It’s pretty cool that we’re back together like this.”

The Gators hope to unseat Penn-Trafford as conference champions.

“It’s tough to lose rivalry games with Plum and McKeesport, but we know Penn-Trafford is going to be really good, and Franklin Regional is always a tough one,” Holl said. “It’s a strong section overall, and it’s nice to maintain and re-establish some close rivalries.”

Schedule

Coach: Don Holl

2019 record: 12-3, 5-1 in Class 5A Big East Conference

All-time record: 437-215-13

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Franklin Regional*, 7

9.18, Bethel Park, 7

9.25, at Pine-Richland, 7

10.2, at Latrobe*, 7

10.9, Penn-Trafford*, 7

10.16, at Woodland Hills*, 7

10.23, at Connellsville*, 7

*Class 5A Big East Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Bryson Venanzio*

179-299, 2,616, 27 TDs*

Rushing: Derrick Davis

176-1,527 yards, 26 TDs

Receiving: Davis

36-547 yards, 4 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Chamor Price owns 14 Division I offers, including ones from schools such as Cincinnati, Syracuse and Wake Forest.

• Gateway is 12-4 in playoff games in Class 5A since the PIAA went to six classifications in 2016.

• Don Holl is 45-11 overall in four years as Gateway’s head coach.

• Gateway finished third in Class 5A in scoring average last year at 31.3 points a game. Only Penn-Trafford (36.0) and Peters Township (32.0) scored better.

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

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