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Thomas Jefferson Survives Late Gateway Rally, 21-16

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MONROEVILLE, Pa. — Gateway Gators (5A) opened their season at home against the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars (4A) on Friday, Sept. 3. 

The home team won the coin toss and elected to receive. After a quick three-and-out that included two tackles for loss, junior punter Cole Plasken handled a low snap in the end zone, his knee touching turf for a safety. 

The Jaguars opening drive went in similar fashion, a three-and-out capped by a low, bobbled snap on fourth down. Gateway WR/DB Elijah Heller blocked the punt, which the Gators recovered in the red zone.

Thomas Jefferson’s defense refused to give an inch, stifling the Gators’ drive with a tackle for loss and two passes defended, but Plasken managed to convert a 37-yard field goal for a 3-2 Gateway lead midway through the first quarter. 

Gateway committed their first penalty of the game on the kickoff, delivering a blindside hit to the Jaguars ball carrier and gifting them a 15 yard personal foul. Three run plays earned the Jaguars their first first down of the game with just four minutes remaining in the opening frame.

Lekse sparked the Jaguars’ drive with four carries for 28 yards and also completed the first pass of the game for either team, eight yards on a rollout to senior running back Conner Murga at 11:14 of the second quarter. A 24 yard connection from Lekse to TE/DL Jordan Mayer, a junior with a Power Five offer from Boston College as well as Bowling Green and Duquesne, with 9:13 remaining in the half made it 8-3 Jaguars after the extra point clanged off the crossbar.

Gateway senior WR/DB Patrick Body Jr., a three-star Cincinnati commit, returned the kickoff to the Jaguars 22-yard line, crisscrossing the field before running out of steam. The Jaguars’ defense held strong once again, with two tackles for loss and a sack backing the Gators up to the 40-yard line, where they punted.

The Gators held Thomas Jefferson to a three-and-out, but a mishandled punt went through senior three-star WR/DB Brett Birch’s legs, and the Jaguars recovered it at the Gateway 40.

Three run plays gave the Jaguars a first down, but an incompletion and tackle for loss had them staring down a third-and-11 with 1:45 remaining in the half. The Gators defense limited the Jaguars to four yards on a swing pass, before sacking Lekse for a six-yard loss on fourth down.

Body Jr. dropped a 35-yard pass on the first play of the drive, and a 9-yard sack by Mayer forced the Gators to take a time out with 41.3 seconds remaining. Birch’s pass fell incomplete, and the Jaguars kneeled to end the first half after the punt.

The Jaguars received the second half kickoff and drove down the field quickly, aided by a 28-yard run by Murga and a facemask penalty on third down. Following a holding penalty on 2nd-and-6, Lekse threw a 35-yard touchdown to senior McClain Flinn to make it 15-3 after the extra point.

Another special teams error had the Gators begin their next drive from the two yard line, and they made one first down before punting. Thomas Jefferson quickly made them pay, as Lekse ran 48 yards up the middle for a score. The Gators blocked the extra point to hold the Jaguars to a 21-3 lead with 4:41 remaining in the third quarter. 

Heller blocked another Thomas Jefferson punt with 11:10 in the fourth quarter, recovered by freshman Kenny Lewis at the Jaguars 30. The Gators wasted no time to score, with Birch throwing a 30 yard strike to junior receiver Dallas Harper that closed the gap to 21-10 with 11:04 remaining.

The Gators got the ball back soon after, and a 46-yard pass from Birch to junior Anez Jordan pulled them within five with 8:23 remaining. The Jaguars blew up a reverse play on the Gators two-point try, pressuring Harper before intercepting his pass in the end zone.

Three Jaguars runs on the next drive gave them a fourth-and-two. Lekse sneaked again, and converted following a measurement. 

Mayer committed a holding penalty following the Jaguars next first down, and the Gators used the extra ten yards to stop Thomas Jefferson’s drive. The Jaguars went for it on 4th-and-12 and Lekse’s pass fell incomplete, giving the Gators the ball at midfield with 3:56 remaining. 

Gateway committed a holding penalty on the first play of the drive, and an incompletion and two short runs gave the Gators a fourth-and-18 with 2:00 minutes remaining. Birch’s pass fell incomplete, and the Jaguars held on to win 21-16.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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