Gators return three kicks for TDs in victory
Cameron Saddler could not have picked a better time to return to the Gateway lineup.
Saddler scored three touchdowns, including two kickoff returns, and Brian Williams saved the game with a 62-yard kickoff return for another score with 14.1 seconds to play in the game to help No. 2 Gateway to a 37-36 win over No. 8 Norwin on Friday at Norwin Knights Stadium.
"This was a lot like last year at Plum, with Cameron Saddler coming off an injury, and we're just trying to work him into shape, and the game dictates that he has to play," Gateway coach Terry Smith said. "He made some great plays and, that last play of the game with Brian Williams that may just be the best play I've ever seen."
What made the Williams kickoff return even more dramatic was that Norwin (2-2) had just taken the lead with 34.9 seconds remaining when quarterback Alex Dennison hit Division I receiving prospect Mike Shanahan with an 18-yard touchdown pass to give the Knights a 36-31 advantage.
"I didn't imagine them bringing three kickoffs back," Norwin coach Dan Conwell said. "They have some great athletes that made some great plays. We had an opportunity and, give them credit, they made the play when they had to."
Saddler, who is being recruited by several Division I colleges, had not played since the season opening loss to Cardinal Mooney in the Kirk Herbstreit Classic in Ohio. In that game, in front of a national television audience, he carried 14 times for 126 yards and a touchdown, but suffered a pulled hamstring and had to sit out the last two weeks.
He quickly made up for lost time. He carried four times for 30 yards and a touchdown in the first half, returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a score, then after a Norwin touchdown, he brought one back 87 for another score.
In fact, Gateway's offense did not take the field in the second half until 11:51 remained in the fourth quarter.
Shanahan connected with quarterback Alex Dennison for scoring strikes of 31, 2, 7 and 20 yards and finished with six catches for 126 yards.
Things started out offensively for Norwin the same way they did a week ago in its loss to Bethel Park - slowly. The Knights went three-and-out on their first drive and were forced to punt and, were it not for an illegal block on the return, Gateway would have had the ball deep in Norwin territory.
Gateway killed itself with penalties throughout that first drive, picking up four for 30 yards, but somehow it was able to overcome its miscues. The Gators even had a 51-yard touchdown run by quarterback Leon Green called back because of a needless illegal block in the back behind the play, but Eric Livesy made the drive count with a 41-yard scoring run for a 7-0 lead with 7:13 to play in the first quarter.
Norwin came back methodically, grinding out an 11-play, 80-yard drive, effectively mixing up the running of Tyler Urban and Matt Griffith with timely passes from Dennison. Gateway, however, appeared to have the Knights stopped at the Gators 31, but faced with a fourth-and-5, Dennison hit Shanahan on a sideline fly pattern for a 31-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
After a 25-yard Zane Zahorchak field goal put Norwin ahead by three early in the second quarter, Saddler finally made his presence felt. He showed no ill-effects from the leg injury as he reversed his field, backed up deep into the Gateway backfield and still found a way around the left corner for a 13-yard touchdown that put the Gators back on top 14-10 with 2:33 remaining in the first half.
That's when things got interesting as Norwin and Gateway each traded interceptions over the next two minutes, which gave the Knights a first down at their own 49 with 30.1 seconds to play. On first down, Dennison found Shanahan over the middle and, after making a juggling catch, he squirted to the sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the Gateway 2.
On the ensuing play, Dennison ran a play action pass and again targeted Shanahan, who was wide open under the goalposts, to give the Knights a 16-14 lead at the intermission.