Gateway maintains normalcy in advance of PIAA Class 5A title game
Experience won’t be on the side of Gateway in the PIAA Class 5A championship at Hersheypark Stadium on Friday.
The Gators (14-1) will be competing for the first state title in program history, while Archbishop Wood (11-2) has won three of the last four state championships, including a 37-10 win against Harrisburg last year.
Although they will enter the game as the heavy underdogs, that won’t phase or change the mentality of the Gators.
“We are aware of the situation,” Gateway coach Don Holl. “We try to capsulize every week. We have the same objectives every week. It is a well-understood routine 16 weeks in. It has been a normal practice week.”
The Gators arrived to the title game following a scintillating 31-28 win against Manheim Central on a game-winning field goal by freshman Jayson Jenkins in the final seconds. They also defeated Hollidaysburg, 49-30, in the quarterfinals and Penn-Trafford, 21-16, in the WPIAL championship.
“We work on PAT and field goals every day and do situational stuff,” Holl said. “We don’t kick a lot of field goals, but it was just like practice for us. (Jenkins) had a lot of confidence to his credit, and he just did his job.”
Through 15 games, the Gators are averaging 36.8 points and allowing 19.1.
Archbishop Wood has been dominant in its state playoff run, outscoring their opponents 126-48 in three games. The Vikings defeated Simon Gratz, 36-6, in the District 12 championship game. They then went on to beat Wyoming Valley West, 41-14, in the quarterfinals and Unionville, 49-28, in the semifinals.
In 13 games, they are averaging 34.2 points and allowing 15.3.
The Vikings have multiple options on offense, led by senior Nasir Peoples and junior quarterback Jack Colyar. Peoples has accumulated 1,571 yards and 26 touchdowns on 207 carries. Colyar is a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for more than 1,000 yards and five touchdowns with 10 rushing touchdowns.
The Gators will need to rely on their big hitters, including senior Brady Walker and junior Courtney Jackson. Walker moved into second place on the all-time WPIAL passing list last week with 8,534 career yards. Jackson is coming off a 15-reception performance, which is a PIAA single-game record.
The Gators will also will have freshman running back Derrick Davis, who was carted off the field on a stretch last week but is expected to play Friday.
“Our best chance is to do what we do as well as we can do it,” Holl said. “We are just trying to continue to improve on anything we can. We know who they are and what they can do, but we need to execute what we do.”
Holl and the Gators have done everything in their power to treat this like any other week, but they know what is at stake.
“When you get to the game site, it hits you,” Holl said. “This is everyone’s goal every year, and we are there. It is going to be a neat moment. This group have been appreciative of every moment, and that will be the same on Friday night.”
Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.