Brad Birch leads Gateway to rout of previously unbeaten Hempfield

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Friday, September 30, 2022 | 11:01 PM


Would anyone have been surprised if Gateway quarterback Brad Birch crashed the halftime homecoming ceremony, took the blue-and-white balloons and named himself Hempfield’s king?

He’d already spoiled all of the Spartans’ other fun.

Hempfield’s seasonlong winning streak ended in stunning fashion Friday night when Birch led the Gators to eight first-half touchdowns, and No. 4 Gateway trounced No. 3 Hempfield, 60-7, in a Big East rout at Spartans Stadium.

Hempfield (5-1, 1-1) was trying to start a season with six consecutive wins for the first time in more than 50 years. Those hopes were dashed quickly when Birch threw four touchdowns, rushed for another and the Gators led 53-0 at halftime.

Gateway (5-1, 2-1) had struggled at times to score points this season, but on this night, the Gators looked like a team picked as preseason WPIAL favorites.

“I told (my teammates), we’re coming in here and we’ve got to believe in ourselves,” said Birch, who completed 18 of 23 attempts for 331 yards. “I feel we’re going to do this the rest of the year. The first four games or whatever, when we were struggling, we just had to get our minds right.

“This is going to keep going.”

Gateway had eight first-half possessions and scored eight touchdowns. The starters watched the second half from the sideline as the clock ran continuously under the 35-point mercy rule.

Gators running back Jaquon Reynolds had 126 yards from scrimmage and rushed for three touchdowns. Three different wide receivers also scored. Anez Jordan had touchdown catches of 18 and 66 yards, Malachi Moore caught a 3-yarder and Dallas Harper had a 14-yarder.

Hempfield’s secondary struggled with the speed of Gateway’s receivers, so the Gators took an aggressive approach and threw deep often.

“We got out-coached,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said. “I didn’t have these guys ready. I think (the media) was talking about a ‘trap’ game. I guess they were right. I take full responsibility for that one. We weren’t ready to play.”

Hempfield was trying to start 6-0 for the first time since 1971.

Instead, the outcome creates a logjam in the Big East with Gateway (2-1), Hempfield (1-1) and Penn-Trafford (1-1) now chasing Franklin Regional (2-0) in the conference standings.

“We still kind of control our own destiny,” said Brown, in his second season at Hempfield. “(The players) are going to come back tomorrow to work. They’ve worked too hard to let one loss ruin this season.”

Hempfield entered with the highest-scoring offense in WPIAL Class 5A, averaging nearly 45 points per game but showed little firepower against Gateway. The Spartans finished their four first-quarter possessions with 18 yards from scrimmage and only one first down.

Gateway led 26-0 after one quarter.

“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we did a lot of things well and made it tough for them, for sure,” Gateway coach Don Holl said.

Demetrius Harper led the defense with two interceptions.

Hempfield quarterback Jake Phillips finished with 15 yards passing on 4 of 12 attempts. He played much of the first half with a painful shoulder after taking a few hard hits.

“His shoulder was really bothering him,” Brown said. “He’s going to go get it looked at tomorrow. We’re hoping for the best.”

Gateway started the season ranked No. 1 in TribLive HSSN rankings but had averaged only 19 points per game before Friday. Their season best was 28 last week in a win over Plum.

They’d scored a season-low seven points in a Week 3 loss to Franklin Regional.

“You are what you put on tape,” Holl said. “We weren’t playing like that (preseason favorite) team. It starts with me. We had to practice better. We had to maybe change things up and do some things a little differently. Hopefully, we’re going in the right direction.”

One difference was that Birch is getting healthy after playing at less than 100% this year. Another difference Friday was that Holl called plays from the coaches box for the second game in a row, a tactic he used with success as Seneca Valley’s coach.

Whatever it was, the results were obvious.

“I never had a half like that, but I came in here saying we were going to score every drive,” Birch said. “We did. We definitely did.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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