With Gateway and St. Cloud both looking to break into the win column for the first time in 2018, it was the Panthers and their punishing ground game who took the 38-14 win.
Quarterback Maurice Adams and tailbacks Phillip Bangura and Tyler Tyrell combined for 316 rushing yards and four touchdowns on a night where GHS Head Coach Marlin Roberts was away attending a family funeral.
"We really wanted to win and dedicate it to Coach Roberts," said Tyler, who carried 12 times for 111 yards and two scores. "This gave us the confidence we need going ahead."
"It felt like we were running downhill," said Adams (11-79, 1 TD). "The offensive line did what they had to do all night."
Bangura (17-126-2), who also plays defensive back, said seeing the Panthers get worn down last week in a 41-21 loss to Harmony they led in the third quarter was motivation.
"We ran a lot in practice this week, to get in shape," he said.
Early on the game looked to be a back-and-forth affair. Gateway (1-2) forced a fumble on the opening kickoff return near midfield and went 62 yards in 10 plays, scoring just over five minutes later when pounded in from the 5.
St. Cloud (0-2) answered with a seven play, 50-yard drive that took just 2:42. Ronnie Ramos ran it in from 5 yards, but the Bulldogs trailed 7-6 after a blocked PAT attempt.
The Panthers swiftly answered; Hunter Knapczyk returned the kickoff to the Bulldog 45 and Tyrell carried for 20 yards, then went 25 on the next play for a touchdown.
St. Cloud had a 75-yard touchdown pass called back on a holding call on the next drive, and it cast the die for the rest of the night. Gateway scored twice in the second quarter, on an Adams 17 yard run and a his 23-yard touchdown pass to Adriel Spinney, and took a 25-6 lead into the half.
St. Cloud's Seth Johnson (10 carries, 63 yards, five catches, 99 yards) added a 21-yard touchdown run in the second half, but it wasn't enough to get the Bulldogs back in it, as Tyrell and Bangura added touchdown runs to seal it.
"I'm proud, from start to finish you put a complete ballgame together," Panthers assistant coach Omar Phillip, one of a handful of staff who pitched in in Roberts' absence. "Props to the offensive line for getting it done."
St. Cloud quarterback Koron Perrin was 11-for-22 passing for 145 yards.
"You could tell, those guys played hard for Marlin," St. Cloud Coach Bryan Smart said. "I knew we had to get out to a fast start, and that fumbled kickoff didn't help. I thought we played well last week against St. Cloud, and it was disappointing to go backward a little bit. There's no excuses, as a coach I didn't get it done."
District play begins for both teams next week. Gateway (District 8A-7) will meet Haines City, while St. Cloud (7A-5) hosts Lake Nona.
Harmony 49, Tohopekaliga 0
Liberty 42, Poinciana 0
Celebration 36, Cypress Creek 28
Osceola 34, Viera 14