Gaskins scores twice as No. 7 McKeesport ousts Upper St. Clair

November 26, 2018

McKeesport quarterback Konota Gaskins felt like time sped up, while his coach watched the world stand still.

For a split second, a fumbled snap was lying at Gaskins’ feet in the final 2 minutes of a deadlocked playoff game.

“It was like slow motion,” coach Matt Miller said. “It was: ‘Ooooh myyyy!’”

But in that moment, Gaskins had time for just one thought: “Get it, get it now, or someone else will.”

Gaskins scooped up the fumble and his teammates push him forward 5 yards for a crucial third-down conversion on the game-winning drive Friday night. Two plays later, again with a push from his teammates, Gaskins scored on a 4-yard quarterback sneak as No. 7 McKeesport defeated No. 10 Upper St. Clair, 13-7, in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game.

The teams combined for six turnovers including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by McKeesport cornerback David LaRotonda. But it was the fumble Gaskins erased that made the difference.

His ability to improvise under pressure was key: Third-and-5 became first-and-goal.

“He would love backyard football more than this regimented style,” Miller said. “Whenever something like that occurs, now he’s in his element.”

The win advanced McKeesport (8-2) to face No. 2 Penn Hills (11-0) in the quarterfinals. A site and time will be announced later.

“The emotions (in the locker room) are crazy,” said Gaskins, who scored both of McKeesport’s touchdowns. “All of the seniors know it’s either our last run or we’ve got to strap on (the pads) and do what we’ve got to do to go on.”

This was the fourth time in three seasons that Upper St. Clair (8-2) faced McKeesport including a first-round game in the 2016 playoffs. McKeesport won all four.

Eighty seconds remained after Gaskins’ go-ahead touchdown and Upper St. Clair tried to rally for the win. USC quarterback Jason Sweeney led the Panthers to McKeesport’s 23-yard line before LaRotonda made a game-clinching interception.

“Two big picks, especially the one at the end,” Miller said. “That was an amazing catch.”

LaRotonda had also ended USC’s previous possession with an interception. That turnover at USC’s 38 gave McKeesport a short field and set up the winning touchdown drive.

“Field position in the second half was terrible,” USC coach Jim Render said. “That was the difference in the game, really.”

As expected, McKeesport stuck to the ground. The Tigers rushed 55 times for 245 yards split among five different ball carriers. Slotback Devin Sims rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries, fullback Marcquis Butler had 59 yards on 11 carries and Gaskins added 44 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

McKeesport attempted only six passes and completed one for 12 yards.

Gaskins’ first touchdown was a goal-line run in the second quarter. McKeesport drove 50 yards in seven plays and Gaskins scored from the 1-yard line. Gaskins added the extra point kick for a 7-7 tie with 3:59 until half.

Upper St. Clair scored on its first possession Friday and led 7-0, but then went scoreless the rest of the game. The Panthers moved 88 yards in six plays ending with a 33-yard, direct-snap touchdown run by Antonio Orsini.

USC also entered with a run-heavy approach and totaled 129 yards on 29 carries.

“What we didn’t want to do was stop the clock unnecessarily,” Render said. “I think we threw the ball 33 times last week.”

USC didn’t abandon the pass but Sweeney struggled to connect with his receivers. The senior completed 6 of 15 attempts for 95 yards and three interceptions but also was hurt by dropped passes.

Sophomore wideout David Pantellis led with four catches for 51 yards but just missed two first-half chances to take a two-touchdown lead.

Tied 7-7 at half, the teams combined for a scoreless third quarter.

Each team has three possessions in the fourth. USC’s offense produced a punt and two interceptions. McKeesport had two punts and a touchdown - helped along by one well-timed, third-down fumble.

“They outlawed the ‘fumblerooski’ I think 15 years ago,” Miller said. “Trust me, that was not the design.”

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