Gateway survives scare, beats North Hills on late field goal

Saturday, September 10, 2022 | 12:12 AM

Gateway is the top-ranked team in 5A and considered one of the favorites in the hunt for a third WPIAL title in 6 years. The Gators started the season 2-0, while their opponent, North Hills, had yet to pick up a win in two tries. None of that seemed to matter as the Indians gave Gateway all it could handle before a field goal by senior Cole Plaskon with 30 seconds remaining gave Gateway a hard-fought 20-17 win.

“This is a proud program and proud place,” Gators coach Don Holl said of North Hills. “They’re well-coached, tough kids. To their credit, they made a lot of plays and they battled.”

Gateway took possession at its own 33-yard line with 5:10 left in a tied game. The Gators drove into Indians territory and faced a 4th and 7. After a timeout, Gateway called an end-around, and senior Anez Jordan ran for 14 yards to keep the drive alive with 2:31 remaining. Gateway ended up with a 4th and goal, and, after calling its final timeout, sent out the field goal unit.

Plaskon was perfect on his second field goal of the night from 19 yards out to put the Gators up by three with 30 seconds left.

Holl was proud of his team’s resiliency in the comeback despite its mistakes.

“That’s the No. 1 thing we can take away: we have a bunch of guys who found a way to win a game when we were scuffling a bit,” he said.

A facemask penalty on the kickoff put North Hills near mid field, but the Gators defense forced four incompletions to seal the nonconference victory.

The contest was back and forth throughout the night after the Gators had a touchdown pass from Brad Birch to Dallas Harper called back on a holding penalty on the game’s first drive. Gateway settled for a 24-yard Plaskon field goal and a 3-0 lead.

North Hills took advantage of a Gators special teams mistake for its first lead of the game. A low snap got away from Plaskon, who was tackled by Ryan Carey at the 11-yard line. On the next play, quarterback John Green found his brother Julius in the left flat for an 11-yard score and a 7-3 Indians lead.

On their next offensive possession, the Indians added to their lead. North Hills had a first and goal from the 5-yard line, but the Gators defense stiffened, and senior Damon Mickail kicked a 26-yard field to make the score 10-3 heading into halftime.

Gateway scored its first touchdown late in the 3rd quarter when junior running back Jaquon Reynolds, who rushed for 115 yards on 20 carries, scored on a 2-yard run. Reynolds also had 8 catches for 37 yards.

Holl said the Indians made some changes defensively after their first two games that were geared toward stopping Gateway’s passing attack.

“We had to adjust on the fly a little bit. They were daring us to run it. And to our credit, when we needed to run it, we did,” he said.

The tie was short-lived, as senior Cooper Thompson took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and the Indians were back in front 17-10.

The Gators needed a momentum-changing play, and they got one from Harper early in the fourth quarter. On a fourth and 3 from near midfield, Harper undercut the route on a Green pass and returned his second interception of the night 54 yards for a tying score.

‘What a play that was,’ Holl said. “Just electric. He’s (Harper) an elite athlete, and we have to find more ways to get him those ‘dude’ plays. That was one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time.”

Green finished the night 11 of 26 passing for 100 yards for the Indians.

The score remained 17-17 until the Gators drove 65 yards for the winning kick.

“It’s hard to feel bad when you get a win,” Holl said. “We’ll keep practicing, and we’ll keep working on our execution.”

Gateway heads into its Big East conference opener next week on the road against Franklin Regional.

North Hills will look for its first win of the season when it travels to Woodland Hills to begin Northeast Conference play.

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