Championship contenders Gateway, Penn-Trafford to Battle for the Bell

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 | 8:09 PM

For whom will the bell chime late Friday night at Warrior Stadium — No. 1 Gateway or No. 3 Penn-Trafford?

The annual Battle for the Bell carries extra significance as supremacy in the WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference will be on the line in this early-season contest.

It also could be a preview of the WPIAL final.

“That’s too long away to worry about,” Gateway coach Don Holl said about the possible second meeting. “But certainty they have an outstanding team.”

Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane added: “We’re not thinking about a championship that’s for sure. We’re thinking about Gateway.

“It’s Week 2 of the season, and it’s an arch-rival. Certainly if you want to win this conference, you have to win this football game because they’re going to take care of business the rest of the way.”

Both teams opened the season with impressive victories. Penn-Trafford ran over Norwin, 42-7, and Gateway spoiled Bob Palko’s coaching debut at Mt. Lebanon, winning 46-20.

Even though the Warriors had two runners with more than 130 yards rushing — Caleb Lisbon had 172 and quarterback Gabe Dunlap 132 — they turned the ball over three times and committed 11 penalties.

Ruane said the Week Zero game film is a great teaching tool for the players. It showed them their strengths and weaknesses.

“Our penalties were really sloppy, and we have to correct that quickly,” Ruane said. “You can’t be behind the sticks against Gateway if you expect to win.

“There were just a lot of simple things, like tackling. We can improve upon sustaining blocks, and we can improve upon making better reads in the passing game. Some fine tuning.”

Lisbon scored three touchdowns in the opener, and two others were nullified by penalties.

“We could have played better,” Lisbon said. “But I know we’ll work hard to get better.”

Penn-Trafford’s defense also swarmed Norwin with its speed. It will be tested by Gateway’s slew of playmakers.

Gateway jumped on Mt. Lebanon, leading 27-6 at halftime and forced the Blue Devils to play from behind.

The Gators are led by junior running back/linebacker Derrick Davis, who has dozens of Division I offers, including Pitt, Florida, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson and Penn State.

Davis rushed for 173 yards and scored on runs of 35, 57 and 64 yards and also on a 75-yard pass from new quarterback Bryson Venanzio.

Venanzio, who started for Kiski Area in 2017 against Penn-Trafford, completed 16 of 24 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s a great system to play quarterback in,” Ruane said. “Coach Holl has proven that again. He’s had an outstanding quarterback every year since he’s been there, and (Venanzio) seems to fit the mold.

“They have a ton of weapons. They’ll throw it short. They’ll throw it long, and they’ll throw it in the middle. You just have to defend the entire field against Gateway, which is very difficult to do.”

Add trying to stop Davis, and Ruane’s defense will be challenged.

“That’s a problem,” Ruane said. “You commit stopping the pass and they have a Division I running back that can run the ball as good as anyone.

“If you commit to stopping the run, you’re in trouble in the passing game. We’ll try to commit to both somehow, some way. That’s why they are so successful.”

Holl said Venanzio did a good job in his first game under pressure.

“Bryson made some great decisions,” Holl said. “He was able to get the ball to the right receivers. He took care of the ball.

“We’ll be tested by Penn-Trafford. John does a great job preparing the team, and they are talented. We worry more about ourselves and getting better every week. We learned a lot about ourselves on film.”

It’s also a tough game for Ruane because he’s a Gateway graduate who also teaches in the senior high school and has many of the Gateway players as students.

On Friday night, though, those students will be on the other sideline, hoping for a chance to ring the Victory Bell.

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

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