Gateway's defense doesn't rest as playoffs approach
It often is said that defense wins championships, and after Friday's defensive effort against Penn-Trafford, Gateway continues to stake its claim as one of the top contenders for a WPIAL title.
The Gators defense, loaded with Division I prospects and collegiate recruits, limited the Warriors to 68 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers and converted two of them into touchdowns in a 42-0 whitewash of the Warriors.
Gateway (7-1, 7-0) posted its first shutout of the season, brought the Victory Bell back to Monroeville and reclaimed the conference championship.
“We're just feeding off each other and staying hungry,” said senior Mileak Ford, whose 21-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter made it 21-0.
“We really wanted to get our first goose egg on defense. We just came out and got it done. The defense is really playing as a unit.”
Penn-Trafford came in as a defending conference champion. The Warriors topped Gateway last year to claim the old Quad South title.
But the Gators avenged the loss in the regular-season with a win in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Gateway head coach Terry Smith said he was pleased with his team's effort against Penn-Trafford, especially on defense.
“We knew we needed a team effort on Friday to win,” Smith said.
“It started with our defense. You can't lose a game if you don't give up any points. Our kids came out and worked really hard through the week of practice to prepare for all of Penn-Trafford's formations. The kids were ready, and they flew to the football. They trusted their assignments, like Mileak with the pick six. He knew exactly where to be.”
Much has been said about Gateway's high-power offense, which has produced 51 touchdowns in eight games.
But the defense has complimented the offense and surrendered only 84 points this season.
“Everybody wants to step it up,” said senior linebacker Jaymar Parrish, who led Gateway with 13 tackles against Penn-Trafford.
“When something gets started, everyone wants to get in on it, from the linemen to the linebackers and defensive backs.”
Parrish and senior Todd Jeter teamed up for Gateway's final score.
Jeter picked off a Penn-Trafford pass attempt deep in Warriors territory and returned it inside the 5.
Jeter fumbled the ball, but Parrish was right there to pick it up and take it the final three yards for the score.
“That just shows you what our team was doing that night,” Smith said.
“The guys were just flying to the football, helping each other and having fun. It was the best defensive effort we've had all year. We're still not where we need to be, but we're closing the gap quickly.”
Parrish leads the way in season tackles with 56, but several on the defense have stepped up to make plays.
Ford and senior linebacker Brenon Thrift are tied for second on the team with 29 tackles, followed by junior defensive backs Anthony Davis (28) and Montae Nicholson (27) and junior linebacker Zaihe Regus (24).
Davis has a team-best four interceptions, while junior lineman Stephen Gross has posted a team-high six sacks.
“We preach hustle,” Smith said. “The very first drill we do every day for our defensive practice is pursuit. Whether it's a quarterback, a running back or a receiver running, we want to fly to the football. If you're not hustling, bad things happen.”
While the Gateway defense was stifling, the Gators offense was on target. Quarterback Thomas Woodson threw three more touchdowns — connecting with junior Delvon Randall on scores of 30 and 18 yards and Jeter for 53 yards.
Woodson finished 10 of 14 passing for 321 yards.
Senior Darin Franklin added 90 yards on eight carries, and he scored on a 1-yard plunge to open the scoring in the first quarter.
“We're clicking right now, on offense, defense and special teams,” Smith said.
Tigers up next
Gateway will try to keep the train rolling and solidify at least a No. 2 seed for the playoffs — North Allegheny is projected to capture the top seed in Quad-A — with a win at McKeesport this week.
The Tigers (5-3, 5-2) are in the playoffs and are hoping to cap off the regular season with a signature victory.
Senior quarterback Eddie Stockett has made a verbal commitment to play football at Division I Akron. He threw for more than 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he has more than 500 yards passing and four touchdowns this season.
Stockett threw a touchdown pass in last week's 20-6 victory over Kiski Area.
He also has become a big threat to tuck the ball and run, as he has close to 600 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns.
“Stockett is a terrific veteran football player,” Smith said. “He has implemented running into his game, He's a true dual-threat guy. He's a Division I quarterback for a reason. He is capable of making big plays. Our focus is on containing him and keeping him from getting going. If we can control him, we can slow them down some.”
Smith said his defense has to go back to assignment football, as McKeesport has gone back to the traditional flex option-style offense that former head coach George Smith was known for.
“Our guys have to be disciplined to tackle who their assignment is,” he said.
“The flex is tough to prepare for, because no one else runs it all year. All of a sudden, here is a team that runs it very well, and its all about deception. If we're not disciplined, McKeesport will make us pay. They have the athletes who can change the game with one play.”
Gateway is seeking its second straight victory over McKeesport.
Last year, the Gators shut out the Tigers, 38-0.
In 2010, McKeesport topped Gateway, 28-14.
Smith is one win away from 100 as Gateway's head coach. He is 99-29 in ten-plus seasons with the Gators.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.