Old nemesis Gateway stands in way of 3-0 start for Kiski Area
Kiski Area senior Joey Brungo's father, John, is a dentist in the A-K Valley.
Lately, the younger Brungo said patients have been chatting up Kiski Area football in between “say-ahh's” in the chair.
Kiski Area (2-0, 2-0) has given its followers plenty to smile about with a fast start. But the Cavaliers' most pressing challenge awaits Friday night when they head to Monroeville to face Quad-A No. 5 Gateway (2-0, 2-0).
Most teams would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than face the Gators on their home turf.
But with wide-spread talent — in experienced senior leaders and rising underclassmen — this finally could be the Kiski Area team that can stay with Gateway.
Kiski Area hasn't beaten the Gators since 2001 and has dropped 16 of 20 meetings since the teams first met in 1972 in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals at Three Rivers Stadium. That year, Gateway snapped Kiski Area's 21-game school-record win streak.
“We match up well with them,” said Joey Brungo, a wide receiver and free safety. “I think we have a lot better chance against them than we did last year.”
The winner will take sole possession of first place in the Quad East Conference. Kiski Area hopes to reverse the fortunes of last season when it entered Week 3 with similar build-up.
Kiski Area also started 2-0 last season but fell to Gateway, 55-14, in Week 3 and spiraled to a 4-6 season that still included its first playoff appearance since 2006.
“I think this team is different from last year's,” said Brungo, who intercepted two passes last week against Altoona. “We got those first two wins but it didn't come easy. This year, we feel we have handled (opponents). It's a different attitude going into games.”
Kiski Area will look to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2004.
Kiski Area second-year coach Dave Heavner knows his team can't allow Gateway to start fast. A couple of early touchdowns could cause the Cavaliers to lose their grip early.
One thing looks certain. If Kiski Area wins the coin toss, it's receiving.
“Last year, we'd defer,” Heavner said. “Now, we want to get our offense on the field to make plays. We want to stay ahead of the curve.”
Gateway runs a spread offense led by senior quarterback Jimmy Moore, who has completed 31 of 56 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns.
His big-play receivers are seniors Montae Nicholson (6-3, 200) and Ricky Rogers (6-2, 195).
Nicholson has more than 30 Division I scholarship offers, including from Ohio State, Florida State, Oregon and Stanford.
“We haven't seen this many athletes on the field this year,” Heavner said. “One thing they do well is work in space. We're trying to tweak our systems to combat that.”
Kiski Area, averaging 36.5 points, also has shown proficiency in its passing game behind first-year starting quarterback Chad Kuhn, a sophomore.
Kuhn has completed 22 of 26 passes and has thrown four touchdowns.
Brungo, also a Division I prospect, has been a viable target while also handling the duties at safety.
“The last two weeks we have been able to execute in all three phases of the game,” Heavner said. “We try to maximize the talent that we have.”
Brungo knows the Gators will test the Cavaliers' secondary.
“We practice that type of thing,” Brungo said. “We work on the sudden change and what we do when there's a turnover. The defense has to come out and make stops. I don't think if we give up the first score we'll get down. We'll keep our heads in the game.
“We have been getting a good push with our lines. We feel like we can wear teams down up front.”
Heavner has plenty of familiarity with Gateway. He was a 10th-grade history teacher there for 18 years before taking over as an eighth-grade counselor at the middle school.
Kiski Area can point to Latrobe for hope. Gateway squeaked by the Wildcats, 22-20, in Week 1.
“Our conference tends to get disrespected a little bit,” Heavner said. “I think this year it has a lot of competitive teams; a lot of good coaches with good schemes. Week in and week out, it's stiff competition.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.