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MONROEVILLE, Pa. — Friday night in the WPIAL quarterfinals against Penn Hills, Gateway star Derrick Davis ran for over 100 yards, scored one of his team’s two touchdowns and secured a crucial interception in the end zone to lead the Gators to a 14-0 victory over their eastern rivals and a spot in the second round of the 2020 WPIAL playoffs.
But Davis and the Gators aren’t satisfied.
After an offensive effort that drove the length of the field and scored on the first drive when Davis went untouched around the left end of the Penn Hills defense, only an Indians turnover at their own 2-yard line resulted in Gators points.
For a team with WPIAL and state championship aspirations that’s not good enough, even if it was enough to advance on Friday.
“Defense stepped up, big-time,” Davis said. “Next week, we’re right back in the books.”
“We’ve got some tough players,” Gators coach Don Holl said. “They’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of pride and they the like zero on the board. They knew the offense was kind of scuffling a little bit. That’s why it’s a team game. They really stepped up, made some huge stops when we gave them the ball back a couple times games.”
The reason Gateway is advancing is a defense that earned a shutout by forcing three first-half turnovers, two of them in them in the red zone, and came up with another red zone stop on fourth down in the third quarter. The Gators held Penn Hills quarterback Julian Dugger to 3 of 14 passing for 24 yards, and after a second half adjustment, were able to better contain the Indians’ rushing attack.
But the biggest reason they came away victorious was the play in the red zone, which involved Davis reading Dugger’s eyes to intercept him on a rollout pass, forcing a fumble by Indians back Amir Key inside the five and stuffing Dugger on a quarterback sneak.
“We just wanted it more,” Davis said. “It was all about heart, really.”
But resting on the laurels of that performance is not in the Gateway DNA. Thanks to a midseason COVID-19 shutdown, the Gators have played just five games this season. Despite having a half-dozen Division I prospects on the team, including Davis, fellow seniors Chamor Price and Shane Thrift (Delaware) and junior Patrick Body, these Gators are still looking to gel, particularly on offense. Carsen Engleka threw a pair of second-half interceptions and he and Davis fumbled an exchange, putting additional pressure on the Gators defense in the form of short fields.
“It says on our door ‘eliminate bad football’ as one of our goals,” Holl said. “We didn’t do that. We created our bad football tonight.”
“We just made too many mistakes,” Davis added. “Having false starts, not running the right routes, missing key assignments, key blocks. That’s what next’s week for.”
The road forward will not be an easy one. Next week will lead the Gators to a rematch of their one-point 2019 WPIAL Championship Game victory against Peters Township, a game the Indians have been waiting all year for a chance to play. After that, it could be a showdown with a monster Pine-Richland squad, down from Class-6A this year.
One step at a time, Holl preached.
“Credit to [Penn Hills], they played awfully hard,” Holl said. “I’m sure some of the things that we didn’t do well were because of the impact they had on us. But that said, we still got a lot a long way to go. You know, when we think championship, that’s that’s not the next one, so there’s really not gonna be any talk of a championship.”
But don’t mistake the Gators knowledge of their own shortcomings for a lack of confidence. They feel that if they correct the things they know they can correct, not only is another WPIAL championship within their grasp, but another run at a state title, as well.
“I feel like it’s another championship team,” Davis said. “All it’s going to come down to is correcting the little things. Little things are what’s going to win us the championship.”