Trib HSSN Football Player of the Week for 2021 Week 7

Sunday, October 17, 2021 | 9:54 PM

During the offseason, Brad Birch and his older brother, Brett, made headlines when they transferred from Jeannette to Gateway shortly after helping the Jayhawks win a WPIAL football championship.

Now Birch is making headlines for what he does best: throw the football.

The sophomore quarterback had a big night in Week 7, leading the Gators to a key Class 5A Big East Conference victory, 40-21 over Woodland Hills.

“Brad has elite talent and a great work ethic,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “He has done a very good job running our offense and just keeps getting better and better as he becomes more and more comfortable in our offensive system.”

On Friday, Birch was on the money, hitting on 21 of 26 passes for 293 yards.

“Brad put together his best overall performance of the season,” Holl said. “He is so very talented and has had many flashes of brilliance to this point, but the thing that made (Friday) his best to date was his consistency and poise in leading the offense. He continues to get better every week in that area, which is a credit to the hard work he is putting in.”

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Gators trailed the Wolverines, 21-20. Two of Birch’s three touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter as Gateway scored 20 unanswered points to remain in a tie for second place in the conference.

“The big fourth quarter was the result of two factors,” Holl said. “Takeaways by the defense gave us great field position and momentum, and (we finished) red zone drives. We played great complementary football in the fourth to close out the game.”

It has been a bit of an up and down season for Gateway. The Gators have split their last four games and are 5-3 overall. When the offense has had success this season, so has the team.

“Without question we have played against some great defenses, which is always clearly a factor in our offensive production,” Holl said. “However, we are at our best when we are productive on first down, can establish balance and keep moving the chains. We have worked hard to eliminate missed assignments and penalties, which can short-circuit drives.

“We have eight first-year starters, including four sophomores on offense, so it has been a process developing consistency among all our position groups.”

Birch is 157 yards away from the 2,000 yards mark for the season and has thrown for the most yards in the WPIAL. His next touchdown pass will be his 20th of the season.

“Brad has exceptional arm talent and is an outstanding overall athlete,” Holl said. “He has that great mental makeup that is prerequisite to being a top-level quarterback, and he is extremely competitive. All while being very coachable and hungry to learn all he can about playing, what I believe, is the most difficult position in all of team sports.”

Gateway needs just one more win in its final two games to secure a Class 5A playoff spot. Holl is happy with the win over Woodland Hills but wants his team to grow on it and not let up in Week 8 when it travels to Connellsville to take on the winless Falcons.

“We need to continue to improve this week in practice and to keep the arrow pointing up,” Holl said. “A letdown is not an option at this point in the season. No offense intended against our opponent this week, but no matter who we are playing, it is about us getting better and doing what we do as well as we can possibly do it.

“The way we ensure we are playing our best football down the stretch and into the postseason is to keep working to improve every rep, every play, every day. If we continue to commit to that level of effort, we feel we can be very competitive.”

WPIAL Week 7 Honorable Mentions:

Kevin Drew — Keystone Oaks

Keystone Oaks (2-5 overall) had its wings clipped in its first two Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference games and entered Week 7 in last place.

However, senior running back Kevin Drew pounded out 227 yards on 29 carries and scored on runs of 28, 5 and 8 yards as the Golden Eagles beat Quaker Valley, 56-20, to regain control of their own postseason destiny.

Max Rocco — Serra Catholic

Serra Catholic and Steel Valley continue to steamroll opponents, remain undefeated and march toward a Week 9 showdown to decide the Class 2A Allegheny Conference champion.

While Nijhay Burt continues to dominate the ground for Steel Valley (251 yards vs. Shady Side Academy), Max Rocco of Serra Catholic is dominating the air.

The Eagles’ senior quarterback connected on 13 of 16 passes for 233 yards and six touchdowns on scoring tosses of 11, 18, 15, 18, 30 and 45 yards as the Eagles soared to a league-leading ninth win in a 62-20 pasting of host Apollo-Ridge.

Capone Jones — Clairton

It wasn’t that long ago Clairton would show up and evoke the running-clock mercy rule before the national anthem was completed.

The steamrolling days might be gone this year, but the victories have not stopped coming.

Junior quarterback Capone Jones ran for 129 yards and scored on a 1-yard run, plus he threw for 112 yards and a 36-yard scoring pass as the Bears took a huge step toward another Class A Eastern Conference crown with a 20-14 victory over visiting Greensburg Central Catholic.

2021 HSSN Players of the Week

Week 6 — Alex Tecza, Mt. Lebanon

Week 5 — Nijhay Burt, Steel Valley

Week 4 — Devin Whitlock, Belle Vernon

Week 3 — Trenton Carter, Carmichaels

Week 2 — Abraham Ibrahim, Chartiers Valley

Week 1 — Graham Hancox, Seneca Valley

Week Zero — Carson Davidson, Blackhawk


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