Gateway makes 2nd-half statement, wins conference opener over Franklin Regional

Friday, September 15, 2023 | 11:16 PM

Gateway limped into its Class 5A Big East Conference opener with Franklin Regional on Friday night with an 0-3 record and promptly fell behind Franklin Regional in the first half.

The Gators made a statement in the second half, however, and pulled away for a 44-24 victory over the defending conference champion Panthers.

“Nobody wanted to start the way we did,” coach Don Holl said of the 0-3 start. “It’s a new season. It’s section time, and we set our goal to be tied with the section lead at the end of the night, and that’s where we are.”

Entering the matchup with Franklin Regional (2-2, 0-1), Gateway (1-3, 1-0) had been held to just seven points per game. The Gators got a much-needed boost as starting quarterback Brad Birch returned under center after recovering from a car accident.

The senior who holds offers from Oregon and Akron went 14 for 22 for 270 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’ve said for a long time that it’s no secret that he can throw a great deep ball and he can throw it like very few can throw it,” Holl said.

Birch opened up the second half dialing up a deep ball to the sideline to Steve Jenkins, who then made a tackler miss on the way to a 70-yard score.

That wasn’t the only touchdown connection between Birch and Jenkins as the duo put up 31-yard and 41-yard scores in the fourth quarter to help pull away.

“In the beginning, we started off slow, but we got on track and we found a way to get a connection between me and (Birch),” Jenkins said.

The 6-foot-2 receiver put together a career night with three touchdowns to go along with his 144 yards.

Gateway’s offense needed a response after being limited in the first half. Franklin Regional found its rhythm early in the game as quarterback Chase Lemke found his playmaking receiver Ayden Hudock underneath as he hit the gas and took off for a 57-yard touchdown on the first drive.

Outside of the first drive, Franklin Regional went to its power run with Kyle Dupill leading the way with 135 yards and two touchdowns.

While Dupill found success often with his legs, one play altered the game and provided the spark that Gateway needed. Dupill was hit by Shawn Moorefield Jr. and the ball came loose. Kenny Lewis flocked to the ball, scooped it and ran for a 40-yard score.

“In the first half, we couldn’t get a stop or a takeaway,” Holl said. “We needed to find a way to take it away and get a stop and we did.”

Franklin Regional’s inability to hold onto the ball in the second half wound up being a key difference in the final outcome, but coach Lance Getsy saw that his team continued to battle throughout.

“I thought we fought in the first half and we kept fighting in the second,” he said. “Things didn’t go our way for certain reasons, and it is what it is.”

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