Last Friday’s 45-7 preseason loss to powerful Lake Nona only reinforced what Gateway Head Coach Marlin Roberts already knew about his club. Namely, he has some good players on the defensive line, at linebacker and at running back but he also has a lot of questions on his offensive line.
“Given they are an extremely good team with an outstanding passing attack, we did some pretty nice things against Lake Nona,” Roberts said after the game. “However, we have got to figure out the offensive line and we are going to have to do it in a hurry.”
Other than a 15-yard run on the Gateway’s first play by running back Philip Bangura, the Panthers offensive line was dominated for the entire game by the Lion’s front eight. Lake Nona did not allow an offensive first down after that run.
Part of the issue revolved around Roberts rotating eight or nine offensive linemen during the game. “We have to figure out who can play, so the inconsistencies from this game did not bother me too much,” Roberts added. “Once we make some final decisions on starters, we should develop that consistency we need.”
Although his team gave up 45 points, the Gateway defense did play fairly well in the scrimmage. Lake Nona scored 28 first half points but the score could have just as easily been 7-0 at the break.
Nona scored one touchdown when Manny Stokes won a jump ball with a Gateway defensive back and turned it into a 40-yard touchdown, added another score on a short drive after a Panther fumble and scored a fourth touchdown on a blown assignment in the secondary on the next to last play of the half.
Defensively, Bangura had a great game with three interceptions – including one that he returned 46 yards for Gateway’s only score of the game.
“We had some moments on defense. Philip did a great job in the backfield and our front four and linebackers did a decent job, especially against the run,” Roberts noted. “In addition to our offensive line issues, I also have a first time starter at quarterback and a lot of young players at wide receiver. All told we are starting four true freshmen and a lot of our other starters are playing varsity for the first time. We are going to have some growing pains.”
One of those young players, 6-4, 235-pound freshman Gabriel Melendez played well in his first high school game.
“Two weeks ago this kid never put on a football uniform in his life,” Roberts said. “He’s a basketball player I had to lobby hard to come out for football. I think he has a real chance to be something special.”
The Panthers open the season at home on Friday against Merritt Island in a non-district game.
“Don’t really know a whole lot about them,” Roberts said. “They didn’t play a spring game so we don’t have any tape on them. Traditionally, I know they are solid, physical football team and we’ll head into the game expecting that.”
Kickoff is 7 p.m.