Gateway hoping to avenge last-second loss in '16 semifinals
Last year's Class 5A football semifinal game between McKeesport and Gateway will go down as a WPIAL classic.
With 5 seconds left, only something unusual was going to prevent the Gators from a trip to the WPIAL championship at Heinz Field. Well that happened. A Hail Mary, followed by a hook-and-ladder after the catch to give the Tigers a 41-38 victory.
It will be tough to top that game, but Gateway and McKeesport will have an opportunity in Friday's Class 5A WPIAL semifinal rematch.
“Revenge is only one way to look at it,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “You can only focus on so many things. We know about last year and it hurt us, but it was a long time ago. We are focusing with the opportunity to play in the WPIAL final. The history between these two teams is great, and we are looking forward to another great game against them.”
More recently, these teams played three weeks ago with the Gators coming away with a narrow 21-18 win at home. The 18 points was the second lowest this season for the Tigers, and Holl knows how hard it is to contain the prolific offense of McKeesport.
“It is a very well-designed offense,” Holl said. “They do a great job executing it. Their staff does a great job adapting to what the opponents do. We go back to that film and prepare to do better with what we didn't do well. We have very different styles.”
What the Gators do better than anyone else in Class 5A is score points. After its 40-28 quarterfinal win against Woodland Hills, Gateway is averaging 38.5 points. Against the Wolverines, senior quarterback Brady Walker passed for 394 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown.
With the performance, Walker became the first quarterback in the WPIAL this season to surpass 3,000 passing yards. He is at 3,095 yards and 34 touchdowns.
“We knew he was going to have a good season,” Holl said of Walker. “We anticipated with the receivers around him that he would have a big year. It is just fun to watch him. It is neat to watch some of the things that he does.”
Walker connected with his top receiver, Courtney Jackson, for 125 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown.
Jackson is third in the WPIAL with 1,318 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Gators also got a surprise performance from freshman running back Derrick Davis against Woodland Hills. Davis rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns after he took over in the final week of the regular season.
“He did good things in relief against Franklin Regional,” Holl said of Davis. “Derrick is very talented and very football smart. He can do all the things and made some big plays for us that changed the game.”
Gateway has had a successful program for decades, but will be looking for its first title game appearance since 2008 and first WPIAL championship since 1986.
“We start the season on media day at Heinz Field and the goal is to get back there at the end of the season,” Holl said. “We would be thrilled for our district to get back there and compete for a WPIAL championship. We have a lot of work this week to get there.”
Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.