Gateway football players earn postseason honors

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Sunday, November 20, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Upper St. Clair football team was to take on Pine-Richland at Norwin on Saturday for the WPIAL Class 5A title.

In its journey to the championship game, the No. 5 Panthers survived a razor-thin quarterfinal game against No. 4 Gateway on Nov. 4 at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

The Gators led at halftime and at the end of the third quarter as they looked to punch their tickets to the semifinals. But USC spoiled Gateway’s hopes for advancement with a go-ahead touchdown late the fourth quarter.

“Give a lot of credit to USC for doing what they needed to do to win the game, but that game for us was really a microcosm of our season,” Gateway coach Don Holl said.

“We did some things really well, and we also made some costly mistakes. When you do those things, especially turning the ball over or not scoring when you are in the red zone, those things have a way of coming back to haunt you. I like to say the football gods only give you so many chances to get it right before they say, ‘We’re not going to let you win this one.’ There were some forced mistakes on our part that USC caused, but there also were too many miscues where we weren’t able to overcome.”

Senior Brad Birch connected on TD passes of 1 and 16 yards to fellow seniors Malachi Moore and Dallas Harper, respectively, and senior Anez Jordan returned a blocked field goal for a score.

“I want the guys to always know that despite the outcome of any game, I love them and appreciate them for the sacrifices they make for the team, the effort they give, and how hard it is to physically, mentally and emotionally play a sport like ours,” Holl said.

“While we had many positive things to celebrate this year, the tough part is that last time we had to be with each other and having to say goodbye to this group of players, especially the seniors who you’ve gotten to know, in most cases, for four years. You say goodbye to guys you’ve known for years since they were on the youth football teams learning to play. That group of 50-60 players will never be together again. The returning guys will have the responsibility of getting next year’s team ready throughout the offseason.”

Competitive games and unpredictability filled Class 5A throughout the regular season, and the trend continued in the quarterfinals. Woodland Hills, the sixth seed, upset Big East Conference champion Franklin Regional, 21-0, and No. 1 Bethel Park escaped No. 8 North Hills by just two points, 19-17.

“You lost the No. 3 and 4 seeds in the quarterfinals, and USC beat Bethel Park in the semifinals,” Holl said.

“You had a lot of close games with a lot of parity in 5A. There were so many really good teams including some teams that didn’t even make it into the eight-team bracket.”

Gateway and Franklin Regional finished tied atop the Big East Conference standings at 4-1, but the Panthers topped the Gators, 16-7, to earn the conference crown and the better seed for the WPIAL playoffs.

Gateway won three straight games, including a 21-10 triumph over rival Penn-Trafford in the Victory Bell matchup, after the loss to Franklin Regional.

The Gators lost to McKeesport, 41-17, in a nonconference clash but rebounded the next week to rout Norwin, 42-10, to clinch a spot in the WPIAL playoffs.

A sizeable group of seniors — Moore, Harper, Jordan, Baron Vowler, Amari Haynes, Louis Douglas, Matthew Brooks, Donald Woods, Robert Johnson, Cole Plaskon, Jordan Tyre, Leonard Sherrod, Tra’Anthony Williams, Chris Livsey, Racari El and Demetrius Harper — were recognized and celebrated before kickoff with the Knights.

“This group did so many great things for the program,” Holl said.

“They helped keep things together through the covid-shortened season and another one that was kind of different because of that. We always talk about leaving the jersey better than when you found it. On our wall as we leave the locker room and head through the tunnel, it says ‘Play Like a Gator’ and also has the words tradition, history and legacy. We always talk about the tradition and history of Gateway football and the legacy each one can leave after their time of Gateway is done. We talk about them putting their stamp on the program and leaving it better than when they found it, and they’ve done that.”

Several Gateway players were recognized for their efforts this season with selection to the Big East all-star teams.

That included first-team selections in Birch at quarterback, Harper at both wide receiver and defensive back, senior Matt Brooks at both offensive tackle and defensive end, and junior Remy Bose at inside linebacker.

Birch, who continues to garner Division I interest, completed 134 of 223 attempts for 1,786 yards and 14 touchdowns. He added 42 rushes for 153 yards and two scores.

Harper caught 34 passes for 408 yards and five touchdowns and posted a team-best five interceptions with one taken back for a score.

Brooks, a Duquesne commit, and Bose tied for the team lead in tackles with 66. Brooks recorded two sacks, and Bose made four sacks, took an interception back for a touchdown and recovered a fumble.

Second-team selections were Vowler at offensive guard, El at outside linebacker, Jordan at defensive back, and junior Jaquan Reynolds running back.

Reynolds posted 661 yards rushing on 145 attempts, 30 receptions for 322 yards, and six total touchdowns.

Receiving honorable-mention laurels were Moore at tight end, Plaskon at place kicker, Douglas at defensive end, Demetrius Harper at outside linebacker, and sophomore Kenny Lewis at defensive back.

Brooks, Holl said, is looking forward to signing his National Letter of Intent during the early signing period for football, Dec. 21-23.

Holl said a number of other seniors are expected to make decisions on playing at the next level.

“It’s always a special time when you see athletes get a chance to announce and finalize great opportunities to play in college and continue their education,” Holl said. “They see their hard work paying off.”

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

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