McKeesport gets another shot at Gateway in Class 5A semifinals

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | 6:05 PM

It’s not often that conference rivals meet for a chance to play in the WPIAL championship game.

That’s the case Friday, though, as Big East Conference foes Gateway and McKeesport clash at Offutt Field in Greensburg in a Class 5A semifinal.

It’s not like either team has to dig deep to dust off scouting material, either. The squads battled in the last week of the regular season and the Gators (10-2) posted a 36-7 win over the Tigers (9-3) on Oct. 25.

“We’re definitely excited about having a second chance to play them,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “Sometimes, when you play a team twice, you end up seeing them weeks later, but that’s not the case for us. We have to come up with a better gameplan, though, since the first one didn’t work so well. We’ll make a couple changes and, hopefully, that’ll change the outcome.”

Even though Gateway won the first encounter convincingly, the Gators are expecting a challenge.

“Certainly there are some advantages for both sides, in terms of having recent film and a familiarity with each other. But at the same time, any benefit you get is mitigated because there’s a reason why they are in the semifinals — they are really good,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “You spend the year trying to take it one game at a time and going week to week. Well, this is a little different than every other week. If we win it, we’re in the championship game.”

For Gateway, it’s the team’s fourth straight semifinal appearance.

“We’re excited to be playing in this game,” Holl said. “I think the WPIAL tournament is the best thing in all of sports. There’s a lot of excitement in the school and community. We’re excited to be part of it all.”

McKeesport hopes to avoid a disastrous start like it experienced three weeks ago. The Gators scored a defensive touchdown and converted another turnover into a touchdown to post a quick 14-0 lead.

“I really think we have to be able to control the ball,” Miller said. “Last time, we gave them two quick turnovers and we never really consistently moved the ball. We have to be able to move the sticks and keep their offense off the field as much as possible because their offense is a juggernaut.”

The Gators scored at least 31 points in all of their victories until last week when they rallied to post a 17-13 win over Bethel Park. The winning touchdown came with 38 seconds left on Bryson Venanzio’s TD pass. The senior has thrown for 2,062 yards and 22 scores this year. Tui Faumuina-Brown (30 catches, 432 yards), Derrick Davis (29-511) and Jayden Hurt (15-191) have been the top targets. Davis has rushed for 1,307 yards and scored 28 times.

“We have playmakers at a lot of different spots. We try to get the ball distributed to the guys who can make good things happen,” Holl said. “We just focus on being the best version of us we can be, no matter what week it is.”

Likewise, McKeesport has key players in its option attack. Quarterback Devari Robinson racked up 197 yards rushing and scored all five touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-20 win over Penn Hills last week. He has 1,357 yards rushing on the year. Tyron Adams-Wagner has 775 yards on the ground, while Vernon Andrews has 420. Normally a receiver, Deamontae Diggs produced 94 yards on 17 carries last week.

“We have to continue to find ways to get Devari the ball. Between him and Diggs, they had a great week last week,” Miller said. “It’s not really the big, long touchdown runs we’re looking for. It’s the 5- or 6-yard clips to move the sticks and control the clock is what we’re hoping for.

“We’re hoping we can get a little revenge and move the ball on them the same way we did last week. We have nothing but respect for them. Don Holl does a great job there. We’ll have our work cut out for us, for sure.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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