Gators hope to slow down Spartans in Quad East battle
Hempfield is off to its best start since 1997.
The Spartans are 3-1 and ranked 10th in this week's Tribune-Review Quad-A rankings. They have more wins so far this season than they did in 2010 (1-8) and 2011 (1-8) combined.
Last week, Hempfield scored 35 points in the first half against Kiski Area and produced a 42-21 victory.
The task at hand this week, Gateway head coach Terry Smith said, is to put a halt to any momentum the Spartans have established.
The Gators travel to Hempfield on Friday for the Quad-East clash. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We're expecting it to be a very tough matchup,” Smith said.
“It's going to be a physical game. It will be a critical game for the conference standings.”
New Spartans head coach Rich Bowen was charged in the offseason with turning around a program that won only 23 games between 2000 and 2011. Bowen has been successful in turning around struggling programs.
“Coach Bowen's history speaks for itself,” Smith said.
“He's been successful everywhere he's gone. They are a disciplined, fundamentally sound football team because of what he and his coaching staff brought in. They are playing hard and have a lot of confidence.”
Hempfield opened its season with a convincing 33-18 victory over traditional Quad-A power McKeesport, and then the Spartans throttled Latrobe, 43-7, in week two. A stumble against Connellsville, 14-10, in week three is their lone loss this season.
The Gators quick de- fense, which bent but didn't break in the first half against Altoona last week before helping to finish off a 42-7 victory, will be charged with stopping Hempfield's senior dual-threat quarterback Ty George.
The Gators held him to seven yards rushing and 29 yards passing in last year's 36-0 victory.
George was in command last week in the wake of Hempfield's top two running backs going down to injuries.
He rushed and passed for more than 100 yards against Kiski Area last week, and he scored on runs of 42, 1, 45 and 2 yards.
“They spread the field, and George's making good decisions,” Smith said.
“He's finding the open guy, and he can also run the football. He's much improved from last year. He's their general, and he's the key to their offense. Their offense is what's helping them win football games.”
Gateway overcame 10 penalties against Altoona last week. The Mountain Lions' lone touchdown came on the heels of a Gateway muffed punt at the Gators' 35.
Still ahead 14-7, Gateway responded to the Altoona touchdown with an 11-play, 78-yard drive that was capped by a 5-yard run from senior Darin Franklin.
Gators senior quarterback Thomas Woodson completed three passes for 54 yards on the drive, and he added two carries for 18 yards.
“We're still a work in progress, and we had too many penalties again last week and made some mistakes,” Smith said.
“But we continue to improve each week and are progressing the way I expect. The kids are playing hard. We overcame some mistakes early to still have a comfortable victory.”
Woodson had his best passing game of the season, as he completed 13 of 21 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
He was 4 for 4 for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone.
“We came into the locker room at halftime and had to regroup,” Woodson said.
“We weren't playing as well as we new we could, and the coaches challenged us. We took that challenge head on. We went out and executed.”
Junior Montae Nicholson was Woodson's favorite target, as he hauled in six passes for 204 yards and a touchdown.
The running game, fueled by seniors Andre Martin and Darin Franklin, compiled 129 yards.
Martin finished with 11 carries for 58 yards and two touchdown runs.
He now has 11 rushing touchdowns through four games.
Franklin added 31 yards on 10 carries.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.