Gateway's run to Heinz derailed by Wolverines
Gateway scored 14 first-half points against Woodland Hills in Friday's WPIAL Quad-A quarterfinal clash at Norwin High School.
Not many in attendance or those listening to the game on radio thought the potent Gators offense would be kept off the board over the final 24 minutes.
But that is what happened, as Gateway was stymied by an aggressive and opportunistic Wolverines defense.
Woodland Hills led by three at halftime and made that lead hold up.
A Gators' run to another WPIAL championship appearance at Heinz Field was abruptly halted, and the 17-14 final ended Gateway's season at 9-2.
“I feel really bad for the kids,” Gateway head coach Terry Smith said. “They played really hard and left it all out on the field. We just didn't make plays and execute when we needed to execute. We didn't capitalize on our opportunities.”
Gateway surrendered first-quarter points for the first time this season. Woodland Hills led 10-7 after the first quarter and was ahead 17-7 in the second on a pair of touchdown runs from freshman Miles Sanders.
Sanders, who didn't play in the second half because of an undisclosed injury, finished with 90 yards on 15 carries.
Woodland Hills hopes Sanders will be 100 percent as the Wolverines take on Upper St. Clair in the semifinals on Friday.
Gateway was ranked No. 2 for most of the season behind North Allegheny, which will face conference rival Seneca Valley on Friday in the other semifinal matchup in Quad-A.
The Gators and Wolverines hadn't met since the WPIAL title game in 2009, a 10-0 Woodland Hills triumph.
Gateway now is 4-3 in playoff games Norwin High School over the past 10 years.
Gateway and Woodland Hills also met in the WPIAL quarterfinals at Norwin in 2004, and in that game, the Gators came out on top en route to a trip to Heinz Field.
“Gateway has a great team, and coach Smith and his coaching staff did a great job with them this year,” Wolverines veteran head coach George Novak said.
“They have great athletes at every position, and some good young talent will return next year. We were fortunate to come away with the win.”
Gateway was limited to minus-38 yards rushing, and the Wolverine defense, led by the efforts of senior linebacker Alex Beasley and senior lineman Jawan Turner, both three-year starters, recorded seven tackles for a loss.
Gators senior quarterback Thomas Woodson threw the ball 50 times — the most this season — and he completed 21 for 285 yards and touchdowns to juniors Delvon Randall and Montae Nicholson. He was intercepted on the final play of the game as he and his teammates tried to rally one more time.
Randall finished with 11 catches for 171 yards, while Nicholson caught four balls for 65 yards.
“We saw some things on film where we felt (passing the ball) would give us the best chance to win,” Smith said.
“Beasley and Turner are tough football players. They play hard and make plays. The whole defense is quick. They kept the pressure on us.”
Woodson is one of several seniors who put on a Gateway football uniform for the final time.
This year, Woodson finished with 2,395 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In his three years as a starter, Woodson threw for 4,941 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Gateway junior linebacker Brenon Thrift made the most of his final game this season, as he led the way with 11 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Woodland Hills.
Fellow senior linebacker Jaymar Parrish didn't play against Woodland Hills because of an injury, but he led the team in tackles this season with 83.
Parrish and seniors Todd Jeter and Mileak Ford were among the leading receivers this season, while senior tailbacks Andre Martin (656 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Darin Franklin (436 yards, six touchdowns) paced the Gators' running game.
“The hardest part of the season is when you come to the end and you lose guys who have grown up through your program,” Smith said.
“I remember these guys as sophomores, and things weren't going our way that season. They were making young mistakes, but they grew up and matured.
“This senior class is a great group of kids. They did everything we asked of them, and they were great leaders who led by example. They will be missed because they are quality kids for your program.”
Several members of the senior class will be taking part in National Letter of Intent signing day in early February.
Woodson and Parrish already verbally committed to Arizona and Pitt, respectively.
A number of other key contributors this season will be back for the Gators, including junior Anthony Davis, who led the team in interceptions with six.
“You hope the younger kids understand what this feeling is,” Smith said.
“You hope they will grow from this. It will soon be time to look ahead to next season, and they will have an opportunity to do some good things.”
After the game, Smith didn't comment on his head-coaching status at Gateway and said he wouldn't do so until the process plays itself out.
The Gateway School Board voted in June that the athletic director is prohibited from doubling as the head football coach, effective Dec. 31, to avoid a conflict of interest.
The board also voted to reduce the athletic director position to part time, and Smith chose to keep the AD job while serving as the Gators' head coach this fall.
It was his 11th season at the helm.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.