The Gatewood Gators opened their season last Friday against their archrival, the John Milledge Trojans, and dropped the matchup, 45-7.
After a 34-17 home loss to the Gators in the 2017 Region 4-AAA championship game, the Trojans had plenty of motivation coming into the season opener.
The last three meetings between the two schools have decided either a region or a state championship. Even though the Aug. 24 season opener was not being played to determine any type of championship, the game did not hold any less significance in the eyes of the fans from either side.
The bleachers at Sammons Field overflowed with Gatewood and John Milledge fans alike. The atmosphere was electric; the culmination of a long summer of hard work for the players, and a long offseason for the fans was finally upon them.
The Trojans won the toss and elected to receive. The Gators defense stood strongly, forcing a John Milledge three-and-out. The Trojan defense matched the Gators’ strong start, intercepting Luke Haley’s first pass of the game and returning it to Gatewood’s 14-yard line. The JMA offense took advantage of its great field position quickly, drawing first blood on an Amaad Fosten touchdown run.
Haley, after evening the score at 7-7 with a 26-yard touchdown run, had to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms in the 2nd quarter. Gatewood’s offense, failing to score another point, was unable to recover after the loss of its starting quarterback. After another interception and a fumble, the Trojans led 28-7 at the half. Gatewood was set to receive the ball in the second half.
The Gators came out of the locker room looking to make an incredible comeback. The opening second half kickoff was fumbled by the Gators and recovered by John Milledge on the Gators’ 36-yard line. On the next play, Brandon Bellflower found Kelvin Jackson streaking down the sideline for a touchdown, extending the Trojans’ lead to 35-7. The Trojans finished off the game with a second half shutout and tacked on 10 more points.
The game was defined by the turnovers: Gatewood totaled five turnovers while John Milledge only gave up one. A turnover margin of -4 is nearly impossible to overcome, and Friday night was no exception for the Gators.
“It was a tough way to start the season,” said Gatewood defensive coordinator Tyler VanDusen. “We definitely have a lot of work to do. Fundamentally, we must tackle better.”
VanDusen commented on the turnover margin, saying: “We need to take better care of the football and force more turnovers. Giving up five turnovers while only forcing one is unacceptable.”
Despite the disappointing performance on Friday, the Gator’s expectations have not changed.
“By the time our region schedule comes, I think we will see a very different football team,” VanDusen said.
Sophomore running back Fosten had a dominant night for the Trojans, leading their rushing attack with 116 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brandon Bellflower threw for 89 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for a score.
The lone Gator touchdown of the night was scored by Haley on his 26-yard rush. Senior fullback Yale Stapp led Gatewood in offensive yards with 62. Gatewood’s total offense amounted to 199 yards on the night.
Gatewood hopes to rebound this Friday when the Trinity Christian Crusaders visit The Swamp.