Gateway begins playoff journey at home Friday
Terry Smith won his 100th game as Gateway head football coach with last Friday's 21-6 triumph over McKeesport.
The win put the Gators at 8-1 overall, and they concluded Quad-East play at 8-0.
Smith hopes to get victory 101 this week, as that will mean his players will have taken care of business in a WPIAL first-round playoff game and punched their tickets to the quarterfinals.
“What we've done the last nine weeks doesn't matter now,” Smith said.
“The kids have to understand that if you have one bad night, it can send you home for the rest of the season. We don't want to go home right now.”
As expected, North Allegheny secured the No. 1 seed as the lone undefeated team in Quad-A.
Gateway's only loss is to the Tigers on Oct. 5, and the Gators were slotted in the No. 2 spot.
As the No. 2 seed, Gateway will face a Peters Township squad that was the fifth team behind Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Woodland Hills and Bethel Park in a challenging Quad Central Conference.
The Indians went 4-4 in conference play.
“We were a little surprised to get Peters Township,” Smith said.
“A couple of teams with losing records had higher seeds. I think the WPIAL makes certain decisions to avoid rematches from the regular season and to spread out teams from the same conference in the bracket. We know that we have to prepare smart and be ready to play.”
Peters Township senior running back Mike Minjock went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in week eight, and he added to his totals with 133 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the Indians' 35-0 whitewashing of Canon-McMillan last Friday.
“Minjock is a good, tough running back,” Smith said.
“He will be one of the better running backs we've seen this season.”
Quarterback Cory Owen is a dual threat. He had 69 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground against the Big Macs, and he added 141 yards and a score through the air.
Gateway's early-week practices were disrupted somewhat by rain and wind associated with Superstorm Sandy, and the Gators began the week of practice inside the old gym at the high school.
Being inside a couple of days, Smith said, helped with the players' mental preparation and gave them a quick chance to heal up from the physical pounding of a two-month regular season.
Smith said the disadvantage came from not being able to work on the passing game — a part of the offense that has been lethal in games this season — and pass coverage on defense.
“We started the week by going back to basic blocking and tackling fundamentals,” Smith said.
“Each year, before the first round, we like to go back to basics a little bit and go through some individual periods. In the following weeks, you won't have the time to do that. We do that one more time just to get everything refreshed in the kids heads.”
Getting it started
The Gateway running and passing games have generated big yardage and put points on the board.
Names such as Woodson, Jeter, Nicholson, Martin and Franklin have appeared on the score sheet more often than not.
Smith said the offense couldn't get going without the strong play up front from the guys who don't always get their names mentioned alongside the skill-position players.
“The offensive line has gotten better and better each week,” Smith said.
Seniors R.J. Hughes and Brandon Madjerich are two 300-pound-plus earth movers who have solidified the tackle positions.
Junior Brenon Thrift, Smith said, also has been a strong part of the offense at left guard, while junior Joe Robak and senior Anthony Parente are expected to start at center and/or right guard.
Juniors Stephen Gross and Jason Chavis both have started along the offensive line this season, and Smith knows he can count on either of them to come in and help when needed.
“It's tough, because we've changed some bodies, and the continuity isn't completely there yet,” Smith said.
“That's a good thing, because they have a lot of room for growth and a lot of room to jel as a unit. Even through a tough game against McKeesport, we got better. That's what we look for — guys who want to compete and battle in the trenches and better themselves each week.
“They are the unsung heroes. They don't get their names in the paper each week, but if your offense is scoring points, you better believe the offensive line is getting the job done.”
Taming the Tigers
Smith said it wasn't easy, but his players picked up a good win last week against McKeesport.
“It was a playoff atmosphere at McKeesport,” Smith said. “It's a rivalry game, and we knew they were going to play well. McKeesport played the best game they've played all year. They made us earn everything we got.”
Smith said his team didn't play a perfect game, but it was able to put together two good offensive drives to put the game away.
“That's the statement of a good team,” he said.
The senior running-back duo of Darin Franklin and Andre Martin accounted for all three Gateway scores.
Franklin tallied TD runs of 3 and 22 yards, and Martin, back in the lineup after missing a couple of weeks because of an ankle injury, added a 1-yard scoring plunge.
Martin now has 653 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, while Franklin has four scores and 274 yards on the ground.
Thomas Woodson completed 13 of 21 passes for 152 yards. He was picked off twice against the Tigers after throwing only one interception through the first eight games.
On the flip side, the Gateway defense held McKeesport's flex option offense under 200 total yards (194), and 168 of it came from the ground game.
Senior linebacker Jaymar Parrish led the way with 12 tackles, while Robak (7), junior Montae Nicholson (5), senior Todd Jeter (4), Thrift (4), senior Mileak Ford (4), senior Dave Wimbish (3), junior Delvon Randall (3), Madjerich (3), junior Anthony Davis (2) and senior Tale Brisker (2) all had multiple tackles.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.