Anticipated Gateway-NA matchup has arrived
North Allegheny and Gateway started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the Tribune-Review WPIAL Quad-A football rankings.
The Tigers and Gators — as well as many others in western Pennsylvania and throughout the state — marked Oct. 5 on their calendars when the schedules came out in the offseason.
Both North Allegheny and Gateway deflected the challenges of the first five weeks with relative ease, and now the stage is set for the titanic matchup Friday evening at Gateway's Antimarino Stadium.
The nonconference clash between the Tigers and Gators — ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, in the latest Pennsylvania Football News Quad-A state rankings — will kick off at 7:30 p.m.
“It's that game that everybody wants to see,” Gateway head coach Terry Smith said. “It's just good western Pennsylvania high school football. It's old school. You have two teams that play the game hard and clean and leave it all on the field. You couldn't ask for anything better.”
North Allegheny — the two-time defending WPIAL champion — has racked up 43.2 points in its five victories, while surrendering only 5.4 points a contest.
Gateway has averaged 49 points in its five wins, while giving up 11.2 a game.
The starters for both the Gators and Tigers are expected to play a full 48 minutes for the first time this season after doing a lot of subbing in the second half of their games so far.
“The first five weeks, we've used a number of different things to motivate the kids,” Smith said. “But in a game like this, you just say “North Allegheny,” and that's motivation enough.
“It's a double-edged sword because even though it's a big game, it's only an exhibition game. The game doesn't make or break our season. It gives us a great indication of where we are in week six, which is obviously three weeks before the playoffs.”
The Gateway players also are hoping to get a small measure of payback for last year's WPIAL semifinal playoff loss to North Allegheny at Fox Chapel. The game wasn't decided until the final seconds, as the Tigers punched their ticket to Heinz Field with a 21-17 victory.
“We're very excited and focused for this game,” senior tailback Andre Martin said.
“We're looking forward to the opportunity we have, and we're going to try to take advantage of it.”
Martin tallied 110 yards and a touchdown in last Friday's 41-13 victory over Hempfield in a Quad East conference matchup. He now has 12 rushing touchdowns in five games.
Smith said he liked the balance of his offense against Hempfield.
“At one point on Friday night, we had 128 yards passing and 124 yards running,” he said. “That's exactly where we want to be. We want teams to have to prepare for both the run and the pass. If you are one-dimensional against North Allegheny, they will shut that one dimension down.”
Senior quarterback Thomas Woodson passed for 140 yards and touchdowns to junior Montae Nicholson and senior Delvon Randall, while juniors Montae Nicholson and Anthony Davis returned interceptions for touchdowns.
“In the first half last week, I think it was the best our offense has played all year,” Smith said. “Our defense played very well. We dominated the game for the first half, and then we were able to sub out with our younger players. I was very pleased with how we played (against Hempfield). However, we have to take it to a whole other level on Friday.”
North Allegheny's offense starts with senior quarterback Mack Leftwich, who led the team in rushing last year in addition to throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. He accounted for 36 combined touchdowns last season.
Leftwich leads the WPIAL in passing through five weeks, and he was very efficient last week in the Tigers' 49-0 victory over Butler. He threw only seven passes but completed six for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
Tailback Alex DiCiantis complements Leftwich in the running attack, and 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior lineman Pat Kugler opens holes on offense and closes them up on the defensive side.
“They have a lot of talent back from playing at a championship level last year,” Smith said. “We have to play near perfect football and control the line of scrimmage as much as we can.
“This is western Pennsylvania football, and it comes down to stopping the run. Leftwich is the best quarterback we'll face all year. He's having a great year. We have a talented secondary that will be up for that challenge. But Art Walker is a run-oriented coach, and we have to stop the run. That's how they beat us last year.”
The Pennsylvania Cable Network will broadcast the Gateway-North Allegheny game on Saturday at 9 p.m.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.