The deck was stacked against Gateway headed down to play the undefeated an No. 1 seeded Vero Beach Indians in Friday’s Class 8A Region 2 playoffs, and the hand played out about as expected.
Despite scoring on their first drive, the Panthers saw Vero Beach senior quarterback Nick Celidonio show why the Indians were worthy of their credentials. He was 21-of-26 passing for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and scored a rushing touchdown in the 48-6 win.
Vero Beach (11-0) built a 34-6 lead by halftime and cruised from there.
Gateway finishes 5-6 in a season that had Coach Marlin Roberts apprehensive at the start of the year, as it was clear how much the opening of Tohopekaliga High’s program depleted its depth.
“I don’t want this playoff game to be the mark of our season, because these kids busted their butts a lot to earn their place in the playoffs,” said Roberts, whose team needed a 55-47 final-week win over Mount Dora to get in as the No. 8 seed and stop a three-game losing skid.
After Vero Beach took a 7-0 lead on its first possession, Gateway answered its first time on offense with a drive and a short Tyler Tyrell rushing touchdown. Then the Panthers got a stop on defense, but couldn’t cash in on their second drive and take the lead.
“That drive stalled, then the wheels came off a bit after that,” Roberts said. “We couldn’t get them to loosen up their eight and nine-man boxes with our passing game, and we went for it on fourth down a couple times. At least it looked better than the last time we went down there (a 50-14 loss in 2015, GHS’ first-ever playoff game).”
Gateway, which opened in 1985, still has not won a playoff football game but has qualified in three of the last four seasons under Roberts, and played teams that reached the regional final in the first two.