Gateway rides strong finish into postseason

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Sunday, November 6, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway football team transitioned from a wild and hectic regular season to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs Friday as it was slated to host Upper St. Clair in the first round at Antimarino Stadium.

The Gators earned one of the two automatic postseason berths from the Big East Conference and were able to rise above the scenarios that played out for the two Class 5A wild cards.

Gateway, which finished the regular season 7-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play, was hoping to begin a run like the one it had in 2019 which resulted in its second WPIAL title in three years and a trip to the PIAA playoffs.

Friday’s game with USC was to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

“It felt really good that we were able to do what we needed to do to finish where we did in the conference and get a (home) playoff game,” senior tight end/linebacker Malachi Moore said.

“At first, we thought we might be a wild card because of how we were playing, but we bounced back and got a good seed. We were happy with that.”

Gateway wrapped up its playoff berth and second place in the Big East Conference on Oct. 21 with a resounding 42-10 senior-night victory over Norwin at Antimarino Stadium.

The Gators collected 429 yards of total offense, with 294 coming through the air from junior signal caller Brad Birch.

Birch completed 8 of 11 passes, and four went for touchdowns.

The senior group of Moore, Baron Vowler, Amari Haynes, Louis Douglas, Matthew Brooks, Donald Woods, Robert Johnson, Cole Plaskon, Jordan Tyre, Leonard Sherrod, Tra’Anthony Williams, Anez Jordan, Chris Livsey, Dallas Harper, Racari El and Demetrius Harper were celebrated before kickoff.

The game was extra special for Brooks, as the lineman and Duquesne commit scored his first varsity touchdown. Lining up as a tackle eligible, Brooks hauled in a 1-yard pass from Birch

“It was really cool to score on the trick play,” Brooks said.

“It always feels great to be a lineman but also have the chance to get a touchdown. To have that win on senior night with what we were trying to finish off in the conference was really special. It gave us a lot of confidence overall and specifically after the loss to McKeesport.”

Gateway came to the Norwin game hoping to finally put the nail in the coffin of a 41-17 loss to the rival Tigers from the week before.

Brooks said the team responded well in practice and were ready to take care of business.

“It’s definitely an effort thing each week for us,” he said. “That starts in practice with good effort and a good attitude. That has helped especially when we were coming off a loss.”

Gateway started the season 3-0 with wins over defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A champion Mt. Lebanon as well as playoff qualifiers Woodland Hills and North Hills.

The Gators then found it tough sledding in a frustrating 16-7 loss at Franklin Regional which ended up deciding the final playoff positioning in the conference. The Panthers and Gators both finished 4-1, but FR got the No. 1 nod based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The next week, Gateway led Plum 28-7 at halftime but had to hold on in the second half for a 28-26 victory.

“We just kept working in practice (after both games) and really concentrated on film sessions,” Birch said. “We knew we had things we could do to be better. We just had to keep it together. There was still a lot left to play for.”

It is said that a win is a win, and the Gators used that Plum outcome to fuel the machine toward a 60-7 victory over Hempfield and a 21-10 triumph over Penn-Trafford in the Victory Bell rivalry.

Birch threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartans, and Jordan caught five passes for 121 yards and two scores to lead the Gators’ run game. Jaquan Reynolds produced three rushing TDs in the win.

The 60 points was the most put up buy a Gators team since it scored 63 against Kiski Area in a 63-7 victory in the first round of the 2018 WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Against Penn-Trafford, Birch connected with Jordan on a 17-yard scoring pass, Reynolds ran one in from 3 yards, and junior Remy Bose returned an interception 65 yards to the end zone.

“We developed good chemistry throughout the season,” Reynolds said. “That helped us win some big games. We needed that win against Norwin to finish strong in the conference, and we got it.”

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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