The Gateway Gators, who played in the WPIAL Quad-A title game at Heinz Field three times over the past five seasons, came into Yuhas-McGinley stadium unranked to face the heavily favored and No. 1 ranked Penn Hills Indians.
Many feel this is perhaps the most talented team Penn Hills has ever had. They have as many as six players drawing Division I interest and that includes the “Fab Four” of Aaron Donald, Brandon Ifill, Myles Davis and Cullen Christian.
|BIG RUN—Gateway’s Orne Bey scoots past the Penn Hills defense for a 34-yard TD run in the Gators 19-7 win over the Indians in the season opener Sept. 4.
“I played on Penn Hills’ last WPIAL and State championship team in 1995,” said line coach Demond Gibson. “That was a very special group and I think this could also be a very special group.”
But everything that glitters is not gold. Gateway pulled off the biggest upset of the opening night of the WPIAL football season by knocking off Penn Hills 19-7. Coach Ron Graham, in his second season as head coach of the Indians, turned into a Dr. Frankenstein this summer by switching the position of many of his star players.
Davis moved from defensive line to linebacker, Christian moved from safety to cornerback and Ifill moved from shutdown corner to safety. Donald is also playing a different position.
Gateway senior quarterback Rob Kalkstein is near the top of his class at Gateway and has garnered attention both athletically and academically from Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Harvard, Columbia and Dartmouth. Kalkstein, a four-year starter, passed with the precision of a surgeon and sliced up the Indians defense by passing for 193 yards in the first half.
Penn Hills and Gateway also combined for six first half turnovers, five by Gateway, and the teams finished with a total of seven.
On the first possession, Kalkstein drove Gateway to the Penn Hills three before his pass was intercepted in the end zone by Christian. Christian has received Division-I offers from Michigan, Pitt and West Virginia.
On its next possession, Gateway reached the Penn Hills 13 following Kalkstein’s 10-yard completion to Shawn Brister. But like Bubby Brister, he fumbled the ball away on contact when he was blasted in the helmet by the trumpet of Penn Hills’ Myles Davis. Davis verbally committed to Syracuse in the spring,
Gateway also turned the ball over once on the Penn Hills 7, when, after the Gators marched to the Penn Hills 1, Kalkstein’s pass was intercepted by Michael “The Thriller” Jackson who accelerated down the sideline looking as smooth as 24-carat gold for an apparent 93-yard touchdown.
The six points were already on the board when the officials threw a late flag on Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law, the one that says, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong for Penn Hills at the worst possible moment.”
Finally, Gateway broke through, scoring with 5:19 left in the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Kalkstein to Stephen Vranka, giving the Gators a 6-0 lead that stood into halftime. Vranka, a football, basketball and baseball player at Gateway, has verbally committed to play baseball at Pitt.
Brendon Felder, a senior transfer from Boston is playing running back, wide receiver and defensive back for the Gators. Gator head coach Terry Smith said Felder has more than 20 Division-I offers and is leaning toward North Carolina, Boston College, Maryland or Pitt.
Felder, who runs the 40 in a blistering 4.3 and looks like he’s ready to challenge Usain Bolt to a race, wasn’t much of a challenge to the Penn Hills defense. Felder found out quickly from the Donald, Davis, Ifill and Christian-led Penn Hills defense that the WPIAL stands for the best football in the country.
Gateway benched Felder in the second half and turned to senior running back Orne Bey who rose from the bench, like Neptune from the sea. Bey gained 130 rushing and scored both Gateway touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per carry.
Penn Hills closed to within 13-7 in the fourth quarter, scoring its only points on Chaz Whittaker’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Ray Harris with 7:38 remaining.
Whittaker, only a sophomore, was 8-for-13 for 103 yards, and Terrell Roberson rushed for nearly 100 yards for Penn Hills.
“I could have made a difference out there tonight either as a running back or defensive back,” said Penn Hills junior JoVon Charles. “I hurt my leg and they did let me suit up tonight, but I’ll be back.”
Gateway finished 12-1 overall in 2008 and captured another Quad South championship. The Gators outscored their opponents 505-115 over the 13 games.
Could the Gators make it to Heinz Field three years in a row?
“We don’t talk much about last season,” Smith said. “This is a new season. It’s a new group of seniors, and there is a new group of starters. This team has a new identity. They understand the importance of hard work. There’s a foundation laid here at Gateway, and these kids are following it.”
Smith said he expects Gateway to throw the ball more this season. To help in that is a stable of receivers led by Vranka and includes Brisker, Nunley, juniors Armstead Williams, Dondi Kirby Jr., and Felder.
Penn Hills expects to meet Gateway again in the playoffs and maybe the championship. The difference again might be Orne Bey.