Manheim Central brought the game and champion’s mentality to historic Mansion Park Stadium Friday night. It was keeping up with Gateway QB Brady Walker and wideout Courtney Jackson that ruined the moment.
That, and a freshman kicker listed at 105 pounds.
Indeed, Jenkins trotted onto the field to settle this fantastic PIAA Class 5A semifinal between his brothers from Gateway and the Barons. And with 10 seconds to play, Jenkins belted a 23-yard field goal that handed the WPIAL champions a thrilling 31-28 victory.
The Barons (13-1), leading 14-0 after the first seven minutes, lost their chance to qualify for the program’s fourth state championship appearance. Instead, Gateway (14-1) will make its first next week against Archbishop Wood at Hersheypark Stadium.
This one certainly showed like a championship battle, with Walker, who stretched over 4,000 passing yards on the season, picking through the Barons for 468 yards and three touchdowns, all to Jackson.
The junior wideout buzzed for 15 catches, 264 yards and converted TD hauls of 3, 61 and 66 yards.
The last handed Gateway its first lead of the game with 10:07 to play. The Barons, however, stayed engaged until the final seconds.
OFFENSIVE STARS: Barons QB Evan Simon struck for two early touchdowns, one to Jake Novak just 4:56 in and another to Garret Fittery after Dave Hahn’s defense forced their second straight three-and-out.
But Walker’s 3-yard flip to Jackson capped a nine-play drive late in the first quarter that got the Gators in gear.
Provided max protection by his offensive line, Walker kept pushing until the Gators were square at intermission. He finished an impressive 12-play series with a 1-yard sneak just seconds before the break.
Walker hit eight difference receivers on his 36-for-51 performance with two interceptions. Fittery cashed in his second TD grab, good for 21 yards, to lift the Barons ahead 21-14 midway through the third.
Simon was 9 of 20 for 182 yards and three scores.
GAME-CHANGING PLAY: With the game tied at 21, Erb nearly had a touchdown run late in the third quarter but fumbled near the goal line. Gateway’s Jeremiah Josephs recovered and the Gators raced 99-yards on five plays to snare the lead.
NOTES AND NUMBERS: Manheim Central’s last chance was a brilliant pass and lateral that nearly paid off. Simon looked across the middle to Jake Novak, who immediately flipped to Tyler Simon heading in the opposite direction. Simon was eventually brought down near Gateway’s 20 as time expired.
THE GOOD NEWS: Barons QB Evan Simon is only a sophomore. He is not allowed to drive a car yet but this 6-foot-2, 191-pound athlete finished the season with 2,600 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, and 445 rushing yards and three TDs. He will be back and so will the Barons. What a great year it has been!