After slow start to season, Gateway offense gets on track in Big East opener

Sunday, September 24, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The Gateway football team was in an unfamiliar 0-3 hole after losses to Mt. Lebanon, Woodland Hills and North Hills.

But the Gators, who worked through several points of adversity, including the loss of senior tight end/linebacker Remy Bose and not having senior starting quarterback Brad Birch for two weeks, pointed to the start of Big East Conference play as a rebirth in their quest to get on track.

Gateway did just that as the team welcomed Birch back to the lineup and played with a renewed sense of confidence in a 44-24 victory over Franklin Regional on Sept. 15.

“We’re getting better each week,” said senior running back Jaquon Reynolds, who rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against the Panthers.

“The offensive line and the whole offense continues to come together. We just have to keep working.

“We knew we were a better team than 0-3, and we just came out against Franklin Regional with a lot of confidence. We knew we had (Birch) and a couple of other people coming back. We knew we had all of our conference games ahead of us.”

Gateway trailed Franklin Regional, 10-7, at halftime before outscoring the Panthers, 37-14, in the second half. The victory avenged a loss to FR last year which ended up forging a tie between the teams atop the conference standings.

“Coming back and getting that win, especially against a rival school like Franklin, it felt really good,” said senior Steven Jenkins, who had a monster game with six catches for 198 yards and touchdown connections of 70, 41 and 31 yards from Birch.

“We all talked after the North Hills game and said it was time to go. We recommitted ourselves and locked in as one unit. We knew we had a lot in us.”

Gateway continued Big East play Friday at Plum.

The Gators host Hempfield this Friday and then go on the road at Penn-Trafford in the annual Victory Bell game Oct. 7.

The Gators possess the Victory Bell after last year’s 21-10 win over the Warriors which helped them on the road to the Big East co-championship and a spot in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“We’re really looking forward to the rest of conference play,” Reynolds said.

“Those first couple of games were wake-up calls for us, but they’re behind us.”

Birch made his return against the Panthers after missing the Woodland Hills and North Hills games while recovering from minor injuries sustained in a car accident Sept. 1 on the way to catching the team bus to Woodlands Hills.

“It was kind of crazy for it to happen the day of the game,” Birch said.

Junior Elsidrio Bryant got the start against Woodland Hills. He was 19 of 32 for 172 yards and no interceptions in the 27-0 setback to the Wolverines.

Birch was cleared the Thursday before the North Hills game, but Bryant got his second start against the Indians.

“That day, we didn’t have a real practice, and North Hills wasn’t a conference game, so we waited until I had a full week to prepare to play. It was also good to have a couple of extra days. It felt great to be back. I’ve taken a little more time to stretch out and be ready for practice. It helped a lot. I felt good going into the Franklin Regional game, and it was nice to be able to play well for my team. I felt confident, and it felt good that we got that win to start conference play.”

Birch finished 14 of 26 against FR for 270 yards. He was picked off once in addition to the three TD tosses to Jenkins.

Birch added 13 rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

“Brad is a leader who brings so much to the offense,” Jenkins said. “He keeps us going and doesn’t let us get down on ourselves if something bad happens.”

The two games Birch missed were the first ones at Gateway and the first ones since the end of his freshman year at Jeannette when he suffered an ankle injury during Jeannette’s WPIAL-title victory over Clairton.

He missed the rest of the season as the Jayhawks beat District 10 Reynolds in the PIAA semifinals before falling to District 3 champ Steelton Highspire in the finals.

“It was a weird feeling to not be out there,” Birch said. “It wasn’t something that I was used to.”

Birch said that as nice of a victory as it was against the rival Panthers, it was important to put it behind them and focus on a Plum team which was coming off a tough Big East loss to Norwin where it let a 23-7 fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 30-23 defeat.

“We have to learn from every game and then turn the page,” Birch said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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