Gateway star Derrick Davis ‘game-time decision’ as Gators draw rematch with Archbishop Wood
Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 7:03 PM
Archbishop Wood had a four-star recruit two years ago when the Philadelphia Catholic League power walloped Gateway in a lopsided state championship game.
This time, it’s Gateway that has the biggest name.
Or, at least the Gators hope they do.
Gateway junior Derrick Davis, the team’s top rusher and a playmaker on defense, is questionable to play in the PIAA Class 5A semifinal at 3 p.m. Friday at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium. Davis injured his ankle in the WPIAL championship and sat much of the second half.
“Derrick’s optimistic,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “We’re going to go easy this week to see how he feels as the week progresses, but we’re hopeful. I don’t want to be cliché and say ‘game-time decision’ but it seems like it might be that kind of thing.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound running back and safety leads Gateway with 2,060 yards from scrimmage and 28 touchdowns. The four-star recruit lists scholarship offers from seven of the top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll including LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama.
Davis was injured at the end of a 71-yard run.
“It was a little bit precautionary and a little bit of uncertainty about what was going on,” Holl said of the decision to rest Davis late in a 21-20 victory over Peters Township in the WPIAL championship. “Those are really important games, but when it’s all said and done, I think you always have to err to the side of caution with young guys and injuries.”
Davis was a freshman when Gateway met Archbishop Wood in the 2017 state finals at Hersheypark Stadium. Wood won 49-14 behind a Florida-bound tight end (Kyle Pitts) and a running back headed to Virginia Tech (Nasir Peoples).
Two years later, those top players are gone and so too is coach Steve Devlin, the architect of Archbishop Wood’s powerhouse program. The Vikings won five state titles in 11 years under Devlin, who resigned after the 2017 season and was replaced by defensive coordinator Kyle Adkins.
In Adkins’ first season, Archbishop Wood lost to Penn Hills, 20-13, in last year’s state semifinals.
“There are some very good common denominators between the team we played a couple years ago,” Holl said. “They’re talented and they’ve got guys at a lot of spots, but they did have a coaching change before last season. And stylistically, they’re a little different.”
One difference is that Wood’s offense throws the ball a little more and runs it a little less. The Vikings have averaged 182 rushing yards per game this season, down from 235 in 2017 and 224 in 2018.
“We’re a little bit more balanced than we’ve been in the past,” Adkins said. “If you just look at the stats alone, last year we were more of a running team.”
Junior quarterback Max Keller has completed 89 of 150 attempts for 1,172 yards and 16 touchdowns.
But Wood’s balance isn’t just a run-pass issue. Adkins splits carries between two juniors, Cardel Pigford (5-9, 170) and Kaelin Costello (5-9, 165). Pigford has 798 yards and 12 touchdowns on 119 carries. Costello has added 622 yards and 10 touchdowns on 74 attempts.
Both running backs had 12 carries last week.
In recent years, the Vikings featured one workhorse back.
“As our personnel changes, we have to adapt our scheme to our kids,” Adkins said. “There hasn’t really been a philosophical change; it’s the nature of high school football being cyclical. Unfortunately, some of those great players graduate.”
Still, Archbishop Wood has outscored its three postseason opponents 136-36. The Vikings defeated Archbishop Ryan, 44-15, in the Philadelphia Catholic League Class 5A championship, and then defeated Philadelphia public school Martin Luther King, 51-14, a week later in the District 12 championship.
In its PIAA opener last week, Archbishop Wood eliminated District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, 31-7.
“I don’t think it’s quite those guys (from 2017), but I certainly don’t want to want to disrespect them,” Holl said. “They’re talented and they come off the ball, but I think they would admit they don’t have quite the same personnel that they had a couple years ago.”
Adkins said he recognized some familiar faces while studying Gateway film. Davis and senior tight end Tui Brown (40 catches, 553 yards) both started in the 2017 state championship. If Davis doesn’t play Friday, the Gators would use senior running back Jay Johnson, who scored a touchdown last week in Davis’ place.
“I think the kid they bring in is very good,” Adkins said of Johnson. “Obviously, I’m not taking anything away from Davis — he’s a tremendous, tremendous talent — but it’s not like there’s a major drop-off there when they go to the next man up.”
Still, Adkins said he expects to see Davis.
“We’re preparing as if he’ll be there,” Adkins said. “It’s the state semifinals. Kids are very motivated and they’ll push through things.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .