The McKeesport Tigers lived up to their billing as the hottest team in the Foothills Conference by shutting down the Gateway Gators, 28-14, Oct. 29 at Walter “Pete” Antimarino Stadium.
The entire McKeesport defense went Alligator skin hunting as they they were able to snap the mouth shut on the Gateway offense. The Tigers “Soul-Patrol” defensive secondary consisting of Hodari Christian, William Burton, Wayne Graves, Kevin Johnson and Charles Davis held Gateway’s quarterback Thomas Woodson to only 3 completion in 15 attempts in the first half.
|APPLYING THE PRESSURE—McKeesport’s Delvon Simmons (52) pressures Gateway quarterback Thomas Woodson. Simmons is a highly regarded defensive tackle for the Tigers. (Photos by William McBride)
In the first quarter, defensive stars Branden Jackson and Delvon Simmons took matters into their own hands. The dynamic duo snapped Gateway’s 26-game conference winning streak, along with coach Terry Smith’s run of three straight conference championships.
Without question, the offensive most valuable player is tailback Sam Gooden, a compact back who used his outstanding burst to dismantle the Gators defense. Gooden rushed for 167-yards and four touchdowns. He went over 1,000 yards for the season.
After three short touchdown runs by Gooden the Tigers went into halftime roaring with a commanding 21-0 lead. Gooden picked up where he left off in the third quarter by sprinting 49-yards for a touchdown to extend the Tigers led to 28-0.
In the fourth quarter the Tigers must have developed a case of ‘sleep apnea’. Gateway was able to rattle McKeesport’s defensive cage a little in the second half.
Gateway, upset by the McKeesport players doing a “gator chomp” after every play, rallied behind super sophomores Darin Franklin and Woodson. Franklin cut the lead to 28-7 after blasting in from the one yard line. The lead was sliced to 28-14 after Franklin caught a 9-yard touchdown from Woodson, whose arm must have been tired after putting up an incredible 44-passing attempts during the game.
Gateway scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and had their fans hoping that this rally would give them a shot in the arm, but the Tigers proved to be a Dr. Jack Kevorkian shot in the arm! The Gateway offense came alive but their defense was too physically worn down to contend with the three-pronged rushing attack of Goodman, Jamar Patterson and Kevin Johnson.
“Our quarterback is a heck of an athlete and these are the games you learn the most,” coach Terry Smith said. “We got better tonight. But we’re going through growing pains with starting six sophomores. We’re trying to get better and minimize our mistakes.”
When the Gators take the field before games, they are greeted by the theme song from “Rocky”. And, like an over-matched boxer, Gateway withstood punch after punch from a physical McKeesport Tigers offense, but in the end, Gateway couldn’t avoid the knockout.
“We have a young improving team, so don’t count us out yet,” said assistant Don Smith and former Westinghouse High School head coach. “I wouldn’t trade our defensive backs for anybody. We have Armstead Williams, Nolan Toran and we may be getting Dondi Kirby Jr. back for the playoffs. I think Kirby is the best in the country. He is 6’3 and has the wingspan of a guy 6-foot-6.”
Gateway played all season without All-American Dondi Kirby Jr. (Torn ACL), who could potentially return within the next week or two. “He’s going to see the doctor next week. I don’t think he is going to play,” said Smith. “I won’t play him as long as he’s limping. We need him, but his future is more important.”
The Gators dipped deep into their bag of football tactics Friday night, but just could not get anything going. In four of the last five years, the winner of McKeesport-Gateway has gone onto at least the WPIAL championship; in 2005, McKeesport went on to win the PIAA Quad-A championship. With recent history on their side don’t count out the Tigers or the Gators from reaching the championship swamp of Heinz Field.