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“Mr. High School Sports” LIVE From Antimarino Stadium

By Matt Popchock
Antimarino Stadium

(Photo credit: CBS Pittsburgh)

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(mpopchock@kdka.com)

6:00 – It’s homecoming weekend at Gateway High School, and the Gators are hosting a potential playoff foe, the two-time WPIAL Class AAAA champion North Allegheny Tigers, in a non-conference Week 6 affair. We’re live with updates all night, so stick around…

The Gators are coming off a 41-13 win at Foothills Conference rival Hempfield, while the Tigers are coming off a similar shellacking of one of their own conference rivals, Butler, 49-0, in Northern Eight Conference play last Friday.

In the bigger picture, this is truly a matchup of the irresistible force versus the immobile object. Gateway, averaging 49 points per game, is the highest-scoring team in the classification entering Week 6, while N.A., which is yielding just 5.4 points per game coming into tonight, boasts the top-ranked scoring defense in Quad-A.

To this point, North Allegheny’s toughest test of the season was conference foe Seneca Valley in Week 3, but Art Walker’s Tigers pounded the Raiders, who had one of the most capable offenses of any team on their schedule. N.A. faces a similarly tough test from Terry Smith’s Gators, who, despite their less voluminous roster, have balance that few other teams in the WPIAL have.

Gateway enters ranked No. 16 in the Commonwealth among Quad-A teams, according to MaxPreps, while N.A. is ranked No. 2 in the state, and has been bumped up to No. 6 in our brother website’s Freeman (computer-based) Midwest Regional Rankings for this week.

Speaking of brother websites, as you probably know, it’s a busy night of programming on the CBS Pittsburgh family of networks; if you want to follow this game while you’re listening to Pitt take on Syracuse on 93.7 The Fan, just stay where you are. If you want to follow along with Bob Orkwis and guest play-by-play announcer Matt Vandriak’s call on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA while you read this, just click here.

6:45 – Both teams are right in the middle of warmups, as just about every media outlet in the area gets ready to cover this game. A quick aside: this is one of my favorite facilities in western Pennsylvania, not just because it’s well-maintained and spacious, but because I’m treated well. Special thanks to Smith and the Gateway Athletic Department for their cooperation, can’t say enough about what good those folks do.

To my point, this was featured as one of MaxPreps’ Top Ten Games of the Week. I, for one, don’t always get jazzed up about non-conference games around here, but this is an obvious exception for two reasons. Number one, what these teams do against each other could impact playoff seeding down the road. Number two, it’s hard to remember another game this year with so much college talent on both sidelines…

A big key for both teams is quarterback play. Senior Tom Woodson is a proverbial elder statesman of the Gateway offense, and he enters Week 6 with an off-season commitment to Arizona (which, oddly enough, used ex-Pitt coaches to court him), and 963 passing yards, which puts him ninth in the WPIAL, to go with 10 TD’s in the air. He’s also scrambled for 177 yards and a couple scores, averaging nearly ten yards per run…

Not long ago, his counterpart, senior Mack Leftwich, committed to Stephen F. Austin of the FCS (Division I-AA to you and me). His size probably scares away some recruiters, but he’s very accurate, and very athletic. Leftwich was last year’s overtime hero at Heinz Field, and he enters Week 6 with 1,180 yards passing (3rd in the WPIAL) and 15 touchdowns…

7:10 – The Gateway Marching Band is doing its thing…meanwhile, continuing with my most recent point, Leftwich’s top target, Brendan Coniker, is a dependable flanker who made a controversial, but nevertheless important TD catch in N.A.’s district title victory last year. Coniker has six catches for 125 yards and committed to Richmond, another FCS program, earlier this week.

Both will be protected by fellow senior Pat Kugler (6’4″, 280 lbs.), one of the premier linemen in the PIAA, who will play for Michigan next fall.

7:15 – Gateway has some gifted players on the outside as well. Keystone Oaks transfer Ricky Rogers, a junior receiver/linebacker, has already been offered by Pitt, though reliable sources tell me a commitment there is unlikely at this point. Nevertheless, the chances look good that Rogers will go D-1, somewhere in the East/Midwest.

Those same sources tell me receiver/defensive back Montae Nicholson, another junior, who has five TD’s on just eight catches, and has racked up 252 yards receiving, is on Pitt’s radar. Nicholson is also being looked at by Penn State and several other Big Ten schools.

7:20 – My x-factor in this game is Gateway senior running back Andre Martin. Both teams defend well, and N.A. is one of the toughest teams up front in the entire state. If the Tigers can make you one-dimensional, it’s generally not good. In a game where points are at a premium, I look at guys like Martin, who have a nose for the goal line. He has 544 yards rushing and has scored 12 TD’s through five games…

7:25 – I had a tough time predicting this game when I really looked at how evenly matched, at least on paper, these teams are. I’ll go with my first instinct and say North Allegheny, 24-14. The Gators will keep the mood tense before the Tigers pull away at the very end. Gateway’s athleticism impresses me, but in these games, the most physical team tends to come out on top, and I give N.A. a slight edge in that regard.

7:30 – Gateway wins the toss, and will take the football. Gators will move left to right on your computer or mobile device…

By the way, updates from other games: Jeannette with an early 7-0 lead over Mt. Pleasant, and Ambridge and Hopewell scoreless after one quarter.

7:42 – Scoreless game, 7:30 left, first quarter, Gators on the move behind the running of Martin, who has 40 yards on this series…

7:48 – A 29-yard field goal by Chris Conti gives Gateway a 3-0 lead with 4:31 left in the first quarter. Leftwich threw a pick to Todd Jeter in the end zone to precipitate the drive, but good pass coverage by the Tigers, and an offensive holding penalty, stalled the drive.

7:57 – End of the first quarter, with the Gators still up 3-0, deep in their own end. Jack Henderson with a nice period defensively for the Tigers. Martin already with 66 yards rushing on nine carries.

8:05 – N.A.’s defense, thanks to some big plays by Henderson and Jeremy Gonzales, is hanging tough, but the Tigers have 80-plus yards to go, still down 3-0 with 6:15 to go in the second quarter.

8:16 – The Tigers take their first lead on a 1-yard keeper by Leftwich. Martin has looked good, but the running of Alex DeCiantis, N.A.’s featured back, has gotten the Tigers back in it. Leftwich’s third rush TD of the year. Key play: 33-yard run down left side by DeCiantis into Gateway territory. 67 rush yards on 9 carries by him on that series.

8:20 – The senior might get to carry at least once more before the half, as N.A. has called timeout with 39 seconds left in the half after forcing a 3-and-out…

North Allegheny will start at its own 41 with 29 seconds left after Coniker’s punt return…

8:24 – We have a couple of interesting scores elsewhere in the area…Bethel Park up 10-7 on Penn Hills in Southeastern Conference play, and Neshannock, at Rochester, leads the Rams 14-7 in a battle of Big 7 unbeatens.

8:25 – It’s halftime here at Antimarino Stadium, with Gateway trailing N.A., 7-3.

8:30 – As the band plays, we’re all work here…some first-half stats coming your way:

Remember how I said Woodson and Leftwich combined for 25 pass TD’s through five weeks? They combined for four completions, 44 pass yards, one interception, and one sack (Pitt recruit Jaymar Parrish got Leftwich to end the half).

Leftwich, though, did out-run Woodson, 57 net yards (on 7 attempts) to 30 (on 6 attempts).

Martin: 80 yards on 10 carries.

DeCiantis: 81 yards on 12 carries.

Parrish leads the Gators with 6.0 total tackles, while Kevin Edwards, also a senior, has the same for N.A.

8:35 – Homecoming court being introduced, as we bring you some other scores:

Bethel Park up 17-7 on Penn Hills at the half.

An 80-yard TD run by Brendan Lynch has Freeport up 7-0 on Burrell.

Jeannette leads Mt. Pleasant 14-7 midway through the third quarter.

An eyebrow-raiser in the Midwestern Conference–New Brighton up 31-7 on Beaver Falls.

Ambridge leads Hopewell 6-3 early in the third on a TD run by Kenell Washington of 27 yards.

Clairton, going for win No. 53 in a row, not running away like last week, but up on Brentwood 20-7.

More to come…

8:50 – Gateway getting ready to kick off, right to left. Gators need to give Woodson more time and give Martin more carries. N.A. needs to keep churning the legs, and create room for DeCiantis, who got better as the game went on.

8:57 – Despite some fancy footwork by Leftwich, Gateway’s defense has stiffened, and the Gators start their first second-half series at their own 20, with 8:20 left in the third quarter, down 7-3.

9:02 – Same score, midway through the third, as Gateway calls timeout. Gutsy call by Smith on 4th and inches from his own 29, as Woodson picked up 11 and kept the drive alive on a naked bootleg to the right.

9:14 – N.A. continues to lead Gateway 7-3 after three quarters. Woodson hit Nicholson for what appeared to be a first down, but the receiver was marked short–very questionable spot–and Mileak Ford dropped a slant on fourth down. Tigers on the Gateway 21 to start the final period…

9:18 – Nice tackling by Anthony Daivs, and a missed field goal of 35 yards, wide left, by Jason Buchert, keep the Gators with four early in the fourth quarter.

9:21 – 7:03 left in the game, same score. Apparent left leg injury for Martin, who tried to help himself off all the way from the far sideline, but could not. Walking off slowly with the help of two trainers.

9:24 – Another turnover on downs forced by N.A., this time at its own 35, with under 6:00 left. Interesting call on fourth down–a draw by Darrin Franklin.

9:32 – Gateway still down 7-3, but the Gators will get, perhaps, one last shot, with 2:46 left in regulation, ball on their own 25.

9:34 – Gator timeout, facing 3rd and long after a big sack by Gonzales. N.A.’s defense has really played some inspired ball throughout the second half. Pressure on Woodson, running game less mobile.

9:37 – For the third time in this half, North Allegheny forces a turnover on downs, as DeCiantis runs the clock under two minutes inside Gateway’s red zone…

Last year the Tigers beat Gateway on a last-minute touchdown drive to advance to the WPIAL Class AAAA Final. Doesn’t look like any such dramatics will be necessary this time.

9:40 – Case in point: Leftwich has doubled his rushing TD total. He scores on an 11-yard sweep to the right, and Buchert’s kick makes it 14-3 North Allegheny with 1:56 left in the game.

9:45 – Final: NA 14, Gateway 3. Tigers have gone 18 straight quarters without allowing a TD (thanks to NASN for that stat).

More to come…

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)