Gateway, Penn-Trafford set for Battle for the Bell game in Big East Conference

Wednesday, October 6, 2021 | 6:05 PM

It won’t be hard for Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane or Gateway coach Don Holl to keep their football teams focused this week.

Players from both squads probably had this game circled on the calendar when the schedule came out in March.

It’s not only the annual Battle for the Bell game for bragging rights between the neighboring schools, but first place and possibly the WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference title will be on the line when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Warrior Stadium.

Both teams are ranked in the Top 5 of the latest Trib HSSN rankings — Gateway (4-2, 1-0) is No. 3 and Penn-Trafford (4-2, 1-0) is No. 5.

But you can throw out the record books when these teams meet for the 22nd time, with Gateway leading the series, 11-10. The 2020 game was canceled because of covid-19 protocols.

“It’s a big game for both schools and communities,” Ruane said. “We resumed it in 2008, but it really started between Trafford and Pitcairn.

“Gateway does a lot of things well, and you have to prepare for a lot things. Their defense is physical and aggressive.”

Ruane and Holl both work in the Gateway School District. Ruane has been teaching there the past 20 years, was a former assistant coach and a 1996 graduate of Gateway, where he was a quarterback. Holl is the school’s athletic director. Ruane actually has some of the Gateway players in his class.

There is mutual respect among the coaches.

“Penn-Trafford will be a challenge,” Holl said. “They are well-coached, physical and they’ll be well-prepared. John always has something up his sleeve you must prepare for like an onsides kick or trick play.”

The Warriors snapped a rare two-game losing streak with a pair of impressive road wins against Shaler and Woodland Hills.

“We eliminated the mistakes that cost us against Belle Vernon and Peters Township,” Ruane said. “We didn’t turn the ball over, and we cut down on our penalties. We were giving teams short fields and free possessions.”

Penn-Trafford relies heavily on its ground attack led by senior running back Cade Yacamelli, a Wisconsin commit who has rushed for 708 yards and 10 touchdowns, and quarterback Carter Green, who has rushed for 613 yards and eight touchdowns.

Green has completed 32 of 58 passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns. Liam Hileman is his main target with 12 catches for 175 yards.

Gateway, who lost to Thomas Jefferson and Pine-Richland, is polar opposite with its attack. While running back Jaquon Reynolds has rushed for 340 yards, the Gators rely on the right arm of sophomore quarterback Brad Birch, who transferred from Jeannette.

Birch has completed 89 of 153 passes for a WPIAL-high 1,440 yards and 15 touchdowns. Patrick Body is his main target with 26 catches for 540 yards, while his brother, Brett Birch, has hauled in 23 passes for 256 yards.

“I’m pleased with the way our defense has been playing,” Holl said. “Our offense needs to be more consistent.”

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

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