N.A., Gateway shaping up for Quad-A shootout
North Allegheny and Gateway are the top-ranked and highest-scoring teams in WPIAL Class AAAA, and they feature two of the most prolific passers and game-breaking receivers.
If that doesn't promise to make their midseason matchup a shootout, Gateway coach Terry Smith will.
“We might look like West Virginia and Baylor this Friday night,” Smith said, referring to the Mountaineers' 70-63 Big 12 win Saturday. “Both offenses have the capability of putting up a lot of points and yards and moving the ball.”
History indicates otherwise. Their last meeting, in the WPIAL semifinals last fall, ended with North Allegheny pulling off a last-minute, 21-17 victory.
Which is why Tigers coach Art Walker expects the nonconference game to be a defensive struggle.
“I don't think it would come down to anything like a shootout like that,” Walker said. “Both defenses are very good, and both teams have too much talent on the field.”
This game involves two of the three remaining undefeated teams in Quad-A (Upper St. Clair is the other) and the preseason favorites to reach the WPIAL final at Heinz Field.
North Allegheny has decisive victories over Mt. Lebanon and Seneca Valley — both 4-1 — but Gateway has only played one opponent, Hempfield (3-2), with a winning record. The Gators are looking forward to their first challenge of the season.
“It's a great midseason test to see where you are, where you're deficient and proficient, so you can adjust coming down the stretch for the playoffs,” Smith said. “We're excited to play a meaningful game where we truly have to prepare and focus on 100 percent. It's a double-edged sword because it's only an exhibition game.”
The Gators are averaging 49 points per game and 24.7 yards per completion behind Arizona recruit Thomas Woodson, a dual-threat quarterback who has deep threats in junior wideouts Montae Nicholson, Delvon Randall and Ricky Rogers and tight ends Mileak Ford and Jaymar Parrish.
The two-time defending WPIAL champion Tigers, who have won 21 consecutive games against league foes, are scoring 43.2 points per game.
Stephen F. Austin recruit Mack Leftwich is completing 65 percent of his passes for 1,180 yards and has a talented trio of receivers in seniors Brendan Coniker and Gregg Garrity and junior Elijah Zeise.
“You're looking at arguably two of the best quarterbacks in the state going head to head,” Smith said. “Both are veterans, take on leadership, create identity on offense and make decisions at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback that makes the right play call, makes good decisions and protects the football, more than likely is going to be the one whose team will win Friday night.”
North Allegheny has the state's top offensive lineman in senior left tackle Patrick Kugler and a tough running back in Alex DiCiantis.
Gateway also has a talented tailback in Andre Martin and a secondary featuring four Division I prospects in cornerbacks Anthony Davis and Todd Jeter and safeties Nicholson and Randall.
“They're fast all over the field,” Leftwich said. “Their secondary is impressive. They're good, and they know it. We're going to have to play our best game so far this season if we want to win.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.