Gateway, Peters Township big-play offenses will test 5A’s stingiest defenses

Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 1:00 PM

Gateway’s Derrick Davis can take a screen pass to the end zone at any time, and Peters Township’s Josh Casilli is just as dangerous with the football in his hands.

Combined, they have 50 touchdowns.

Their big-play offenses will share the field at 6 p.m. Saturday for what could be an electric WPIAL Class 5A championship at Norwin. Second-seeded Gateway (11-2) and fifth-seeded Peters Township (12-1) have each topped 40 points multiple times this season.

“I don’t know if my heart can take a 45-44 game,” Peters Township coach T.J. Plack said with a laugh.

These two finalists also have the stingiest defenses in WPIAL Class 5A, so a game in the 40s seems unlikely. Gateway has allowed 12.2 points and Peters Township surrenders just 8.5.

“I think it’s going to be right down the middle,” said Plack, whose team is making its WPIAL championship debut. “I don’t think it’s going to be a low-scoring game. I do not think it’s going to be a very high-scoring game. We’re too good on defense, and they cause a lot of problems on defense.

“But there will be some big plays,” he added. “I can assure you of that — on both sides.”

Davis, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior with offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU and others, has scored eight touchdowns longer than 50 yards. His best are an 80-yard run and a 75-yard pass.

Casilli, a 6-1, 185-pound senior committed to Penn, has seven touchdowns of 50-plus. His longest are a 90-yard kickoff return and an 80-yard punt return.

But they aren’t alone as playmakers. Gateway junior Chamor Price has three touchdown catches longer than 60 yards. Peters Township’s Aidan McCall has a 71-yard run and an 80-yard catch among his longest scores.

And there are others after them.

Could this rival the 38-37 score in 2016 when West Allegheny defeated McKeesport in the Class 5A final?

“I certainly think that both offensive coordinators would like it to be that kind of game,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “The kind of game where we get guys the ball in space and they get an opportunity to make plays. But I think both defenses are really good too and have a lot of pride. I’m sure their defense isn’t over there saying: ‘Offense, you’ve got to go win it for us.’”

Gateway held McKeesport to seven points in the semifinals. Peters Township allowed only 10 to Penn-Trafford.

“There have been rare times where teams can score a million points and win those Big 12-type games,” Holl said. “But if you want to be a championship team, you have to play great defense.”

Both defenses will face a 2,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher.

Peters Township quarterback Logan Pfeuffer has thrown for 2,121 yards and 24 touchdowns. His top target is Casilli, who has 47 catches for 562 yards and 22 total touchdowns.

The leading rusher is senior Ryan Magiske, who has 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns on 214 carries.

“Sometimes you play a team that has a really strong running back or running game, or you play a team that’s really proficient at throwing the ball and has a good quarterback,” Holl said. “What they have is balance. They can run it or they can throw it and they have a good plan.”

Davis is Gateway’s leading rusher and receiver. He has 1,420 yards on the ground and 547 through the air on 36 receptions. He’s scored 28 touchdowns. Gators quarterback Bryson Venanzio has thrown for 2,375 yards and 26 touchdowns.

“You have to stop their run game and stop their screen game,” Plack said. “That’s essential. They’ve got a lot of big-play guys. When they get the ball in their hands, they’re able to go the distance.

“We’ve been very good (defending) some of the things they’ve done but it just takes one missed tackle.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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