Gators and Wolverines to renew rivalry
Neighborhood rivals meet Friday with a trip to the WPIAL Quad-A semifinals on the line.
The players are no strangers to each other, and veteran coaches Terry Smith and George Novak have matched wits eight times since 2002.
As much as advancing in the playoffs, the game renews the battle for area bragging rights that was taken away a few years ago when the Gators and Wolverines were placed in different conferences.
“It's going to be an interesting challenge for us,” Smith said.
“Our kids know their kids, and vice versa. It's a nice rivalry. I'm sure they will be talking and Facebooking all week. It's two teams that will prepare hard and be ready to win.”
Kickoff on Friday at Norwin High School is at 7:30 p.m. Gateway is 4-2 in playoff games played at Norwin since 2004, and five of the six games were quarterfinal contests.
Smith said that even though the teams are in different conferences, he and his coaches keep an eye on the Wolverines at different points in the season.
Woodland Hills and Gateway haven't played since the 2009 WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field. The Wolverines beat the Gators that night, 10-0, and it was Gateway's third straight trip to the WPIAL title game.
The teams also met in the quarterfinals of the 2004 playoffs, a game the Gators won, 31-12, on the way to their first title game at Heinz Field.
A WPIAL semifinal matchup in 2002 went the way of the Wolverines, 34-17.
Smith said Gateway hopes that Woodland Hills will be another step in returning to Heinz this season.
“Woodland Hills is always tough,” he said. “They always have tough kids and a lot of speed. They have a lot of talent we have to be prepared for.”
Woodland Hills is on a roll, having won five games in a row since a 39-36 heartbreaker against Mt. Lebanon at the Wolvarena on Sept. 28.
The Wolverines lost to Upper St. Clair, 31-12, in the season opener.
Woodland Hills pulled away from North Hills in the second half of their first-round game last Friday and scored a 27-7 victory.
Senior quarterback Cody McClelland is a top threat and one of the top passers in the WPIAL this season.
But a freshman carried the load for the Wolverines against North Hills.
In his first varsity playoff game, Miles Sanders carried the ball 18 times for 120 yards, including 10 carries for 72 yards in the second half.
That put Miles at 557 yards for the season, and he has eight rushing touchdowns.
Both are team bests.
McClelland surpassed 1,400 passing yards for the season against North Hills, and his first-half touchdown toss gives him 18 on the season.
Senior wide receiver Tom Greene, McClelland's No. 1 target, has close to 600 yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, senior linebacker Alex Beasley and senior lineman Jawan Turner both are three-year starters. Both were all-conference performers in 2011.
“We have to pick up the intensity and focus more and more every day,” Gateway junior cornerback Anthony Davis said.
Gators overcome Peters Township challenge
Ahead by nine points — 28-19 — early in the fourth quarter of Friday's first-round game at Antimarino Stadium, Gateway was facing several punches from Peters Township's potent running attack.
The combination of seniors Mike Minjock and John Fazio helped the Indians drive the field and threaten deep in Gators territory.
On a fourth-and-1 play from the Gateway 18, Minjock, who had gone well over 100 yards rushing at that point, got the ball.
But the Gators' defense rose up when they needed to the most, as senior defensive tackle R.J. Hughes met Minjock in the backfield and stopped him in his tracks.
A host of Gateway defenders then helped bring Minjock to the turf for a 5-yard loss.
“We had to make a play,” Hughes said.
“We had to get him stopped. We had a tough first half, but we just had to come back from that. We still have room to improve defensively, and we have a lot of potential.”
Peters Township turned the ball over on downs, and the Gators salted the game away with an insurance touchdown — a 29-yard pass from senior quarterback Thomas Woodson to fellow senior Todd Jeter for a 35-19 lead.
“We were able to put them away in the fourth quarter, which is what you have to do to be a championship football team,” Smith said.
Gateway got a taste of the necessity of playing tough down to the wire a week earlier in a 21-6 victory against McKeesport, when the Gators led 7-0 at halftime and put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Peters Township finished the regular season 5-4 overall and 4-4 in the rugged Quad Central Conference. The Indians trailed 14-12 in the second quarter before Gateway got a 26-yard touchdown hookup from Woodson to junior Montae Nicholson to make it 21-12 at the break.
“They ran the hook-and-lateral that went for a touchdown, and they attempted a fake punt early in the game,” Smith said.
“They did a lot of things well and were confident. I had said all week that they weren't a true No. 15 seed. They should've been a No. 11 or a No. 12 seed, and they played that way. They played in a tough conference, and they went 5-4. We didn't expect to be in such a close game, but we knew if we didn't come out and take care of business, it would be a close game. Hats off to Peters Township. They played well.”
Minjock finished his final varsity season with 1,318 yards and 19 total touchdowns.
He carried the ball 27 times for 168 yards against the Gators, and no running back has tallied more rushing yards against the Gateway defense in 10 games this season.
“It was a combination of we didn't tackle well, but he ran the ball extremely well,” Smith said.
“He ran tough and did what was necessary on his end. He made some big plays. Give him credit. That's a tremendous effort.”
As a team, the Indians racked up 239 rushing yards, also a season high against the Gators.
North Allegheny had 215 rushing yards in its 14-3 triumph over Gateway, but no single running back went over 100 yards.
“We needed to tackle better,” Davis said. “When we hit (Minjock), he keep moving his feet and would get five more yards. We talked about that at halftime. He's a slippery guy, so you have to wrap him up well to bring him down. We just had to get back to doing what we know we can do to make plays. When we make plays, we build energy.”
Davis made two plays in the first half. He intercepted Indians sophomore quarterback Cory Owen twice.
Davis now has a team-best six interceptions on the season.
The Gateway secondary, loaded with Division I talent, caused the Peters Township coaches to keep the ball mostly on the ground.
Woodson finished the game 15 of 23 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He completed seven straight passes for 148 yards during a second half stretch, and he was 4 for 4 for 72 yards on Gateway's 5-play fourth-quarter scoring drive.
The entire receiving corps figured into the fun, as Nicholson finished with four catches for 61 yards, and Jeter had three grabs for 58 yards.
Senior Jaymar Parrish hauled in a 59-yard touchdown strike from Woodson in the second half, and he also had a catch for 16 yards in the first half.
Senior Mileak Ford, juniors Delvon Randall and Ricky Rogers and senior Tale Brisker also make key receptions.
Senior Darin Franklin complimented the passing game with 14 carries for 161 yards, including long first-half touchdown runs of 42 and 74 yards.
Fellow senior Andre Martin had two carries for three yards before leaving the game late in the first quarter with an injury.
Before the game, Smith was recognized at midfield with a cake and a plaque in celebration of his 100th victory as Gators head coach, which came against McKeesport.
“I've coached hundreds of amazing athletes, and the kids are the ones that go out and perform, score touchdowns and make tackles,” he said. “We put together schemes and plans and hope they follow them.”
Smith was quick to mention and credit assistant coaches Mike Booth and Russ Gratton, who have been with Smith on the Gateway sidelines for all 11 seasons.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.