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Gatewood gallops to another region title

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    Gatewood senior Bryce Johnson (No. 10) avoids a Piedmont tackler and will be a huge key for the Gators in the playoff run. DAWN SINCLAIR/Contributed
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    Junior Landon Wilson (No. 37) has been a big playmaker in the defensive backfield for the Gators and will be counted on heavily against playoff teams that throw the football more. DAWN SINCLAIR/Contributed

The Gatewood Gators took another step closer to realizing their season goals of reaching the GISA AA state championship game for the fourth straight year Friday night in a hard fought 22-18 victory over Brentwood to capture the region championship and more importantly, the first seed in the state playoffs, earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“It was a real good night,” Gatewood head coach Jeff Ratliff said on Sunday. “It was every bit of what we thought it was going to be.”

The Gators went into halftime trailing 18-16. Gatewood got a field goal from Jayson Burner and quarterback Luke Haley found Charlie Rutherford for a 50-yard touchdown pass on what Ratliff said, was a perfect fade route.

Before the half was over, Haley struck again, this time on a quarterback keeper for a 60-yard touchdown. The second half was toe-to-toe, man-to-man as the two best teams in GISA AA football fought it out in a back and forth struggle of will and determination for the win.

With about five minutes left in the game, Brentwood clung to the 18-16 edge. Gatewood, starting to feel the clock not on their side, faced a third and 2 at the Brentwood 40-yard line.

The play call from the bench was a quarterback sneak to try and gain two yards and the first down to keep the chains moving. With a mass of humanity fighting for every inch at the line of scrimmage, Haley was thwarted but popped out of the scrum, found a seam and was gone for a 40-yard touchdown run, putting the Gators up 22-18. The two point conversion failed and it was up to the Gatewood defense to hold Brentwood.

“Brentwood got the ball back and we were able to get a turnover on their second play and we were able to run out the clock,” said Ratliff. “The guys kept playing so hard. Even when things weren’t going well for us and we could not get the stops we needed, we eventually came up with a big play.”

Ratliff was especially proud of the never-say-quit attitude of his team.

“Winning the region championship was a great finishing touch on the 2020 regular season,” he said. “The game had everything you wanted. It pitted two good teams going toe to toe for the top seed in playoffs.

“I am so proud of our team. They kept playing with grit and determination until finally we put those guys away. It was a great football game and a huge win for our football team. I can’t say enough about the championship mettle our players exhibited. Every one of our players had a role to play and a job to do.

As good as it is to celebrate, there is much work left to do in the playoffs.

“As good as that victory felt, we have to refocus on the playoffs. By winning the region, we earned the number one seed which means we are at home throughout the playoffs. It also means we draw the number eight seed: Robert Toombs,” Ratliff said. “Robert Toombs is 1-8 with their only win coming via a forfeit this past Friday night. I am not going to sugar coat anything, Robert Toombs has not had a great season, but they stand in our way to move onto the semi-finals. We will prepare for them as if they are 9-0.”