KISSIMMEE — Gateway senior RB Zach Smith rushed for 127 yards and a decisive 20-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown to help the Panthers (3-1, 1-0 in Class 7A, District 6) beat St. Cloud (1-2, 0-1) 30-10 on Monday night.
Gateway junior linebacker Chase Smith, Zach's brother, intercepted a pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to cap a wild fourth-quarter flurry.
"We love the end zone," Zach Smith said. "The Smith boys love the end zone.
"Yeah, this is big for us. I'm excited. We're in the playoffs. I promise. We're in the playoffs. This is the best my team has played in a long time .. since spring. The first half we were rocky, but that happens a lot. We came out in the second half and dominated in all aspects of the game."
They'll need a few more district wins to make good on that promise, but Monday night's win was a step in that direction. The game was a make-up from a Friday postponement.
Gateway quarterback Anthony Rodriguez completed just 4 of 7 passes but made them count on touchdown connections to Theo Belhomme (31 yards) and Brandon Lakins (44).
Like Smith said, the first half was rocky for both teams, but more so for St. Cloud, which lost senior quarterback E.J. Mckenzie, who also plays safety on defense, with five minutes and 39 seconds left before halftime.
McKenzie came up to make a play on Smith and injured his left knee during the attempted tackle. Preliminary indications were a hyper-extension, but McKenzie did not return.
"We don't want to take any chances that we could make it worse and it be season-ending," McKenzie said at halftime. His status for Friday's game at Leesburg is questionable.
It appeared the first half would end in a scoreless tie until Rodriguez and Lakins hooked up for the 44-yard TD pass-and-catch with 59 seconds remaining and after the missed extra-point kick, Gateway led 6-0 at the break.
St. Cloud came out in the second half and took advantage of three costly Gatweway penalties to go 57 yards on a scoring drive that was capped by Eric Pfeifer's 4-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead. Pfeifer rushed for 94 yards on 22 carries for St. Cloud.
That momentum was shortlived, however, and Gateway rolled up three fourth-quarter touchdowns to put the game away.
McKenzie's replacement at quarterback was junior Ian Rinehart, who was 6-of-16 passing for 85 yards.
Kissimmee Gateway 30, St. Cloud 10
SECOND -- G: Lakins 44 pass from Rodriguez (kick failed). THIRD -- SC: Pfeifer 4 run (Askey kick); G: Marquez FG 33. FOURTH -- G: Belhomme 31 pass from Rodriguez (Marquez kick); SC: Askey FG 28; G: Z. Smith 20 run (Marquez kick); G: C. Smith 70 INT return (Marquez kick)