Gateway wins field-position battle with Peters Township for 7th WPIAL title
Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 9:03 PM
Gateway didn’t score a point in the final 20 minutes Saturday night, but ultimately they didn’t need any.
Senior quarterback Bryson Venanzio built a lead with two first-half touchdowns and then watched his Gators play championship-caliber defense to defeat Peters Township, 21-20, in a rain-drenched WPIAL Class 5A final at Norwin.
These were two of the most talented big-play offenses in the WPIAL, but they also owned the two stingiest defenses in Class 5A. Those defenses showed up in the fourth quarter as Gateway won a field-position battle with two well-placed punts.
“If you’re going to sit out here in this weather … and watch a football game, that’s a (heck) of a football game right there,” said Gateway coach Don Holl, who joked that the ice water dumped on him warmed him up.
Peters Township had two chances in the final 4 minutes to put together a game-winning drive but neither went anywhere. Pinned near its own goal line, the first drive gained one yard before a punt and the other only eight before a failed fourth-down run.
“We didn’t get the first downs we needed,” Peters Township coach T.J. Plack said. “It was just a bad situation and we couldn’t crawl out of it.”
Gateway’s defense was the reason. The Gators played much of the second half without injured star Derrick Davis, but they didn’t let Peters Township complete a throw on either of those final two possessions.
That included a trick-play pass from the Indians’ end zone and a long throw just out of star wideout Josh Casilli’s reach. The Penn recruit finished with only two catches for 73 yards.
“Momentum was on our side,” said Gateway linebacker Tui Brown, who forced and recovered a second-half fumble. “Their back was against the wall. We just had to keep applying pressure.”
The WPIAL title was the seventh overall and second in three years for second-seeded Gateway (12-2). Fifth-seeded Peters Township (12-2) was making its first WPIAL championship appearance.
Gateway advances to play District 12’s Archbishop Wood in the semifinals. A site and time were not yet announce.
“When we were out there on the field taking a knee, I said: ‘Wow, this is really happening,’” said Venanzio, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
After seeing the weather forecasts, Venanzio practiced throwing with wet hands early in the week. Apparently, it worked. He threw a 9-yard touchdown to Chamor Price on the game’s opening possession and a 61-yarder to Patrick Body in the second quarter to lead 14-7.
Heavy rain fell throughout the game but neither team shied away from throwing the football. Peters Township quarterback Logan Pfeuffer completed 10 of 19 passes for 247 yards.
Body led Gateway’s receivers with five catches for 118 yards.
“I don’t know the game suffered a lot for it,” Holl said. “There weren’t a lot of dropped balls because of the weather. There weren’t a lot of guys fumbling snaps. For the most part, I don’t think the weather had a huge affect on the game.”
Gateway’s third touchdown was a 1-yard run by Jay Johnson to lead 21-10 with 8 minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter. The Gators didn’t score again but instead used field position, strong defense and two well-placed punts to slow down Peters Township.
The first punt was a 39-yard quick kick by Venanzio that pinned Peters Township at the 1 with 3:52 left. The second was a 29-yarder by Jayson Jenkins that was fielded inside the 10.
“That quick kick and the punt that pinned them down there were both really good plays at the end of that game,” Holl said.
However, Jenkins’ kick caused some controversy. Jenkins’ knee appeared to touch the ground near midfield as he fielded a low punt snap but officials didn’t whistle him down.
“His knee was down without a doubt,” Plack said. “That’s a terrible call. It should have been called down.”
Instead of starting at midfield, the Indians began their final drive at their own 9 with 2:26 left. That no-call didn’t affect the game, Plack said, but then reconsidered.
The Indians didn’t need a touchdown on their final possession to win, only a field goal, and kicker Andrew Massucci already had kicked two. His second — a 33-yarder — pulled Peters Township to within a point with 8:10 left in the fourth.
“If you get the ball right here, that’s a different story,” Plack said pointing toward the 50.
Running back Ryan Magiske scored both of Peters Township’s touchdowns on runs of 16 and 10 yards. The senior rushed for 45 yards on 13 carries.
Massucci’s other field goal was a 24-yarder just before halftime.
Gateway led 14-10 at half.
Thank you! What a great Championship game! A shame somebody had to lose…Mad respect for Coach Plack and your outstanding team!
— Don Holl (@CoachDonHoll1) November 24, 2019
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .