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Bolstered by improved offensive line, Gateway builds confidence to run for WPIAL title

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Thursday, August 11, 2022 | 12:23 p.m.


Gateway’s offensive line got pushed around at times last season by some of the best defensive fronts in the WPIAL, but the Gators say they’re ready to fight back.

“The biggest thing for us was definitely confidence,” said senior tackle Matt Brooks, a Duquesne rookie. “We didn’t have that confidence last year. Going against the TJ line and the Penn-Trafford and Pine-Richland line, our confidence was destroyed. But as we approach this year, we’re not going to have that (doubt). We’re going to have a kind of “we’re unstoppable” kind of confidence.

If so, the Gators can be considered preseason contenders to add their third WPIAL title in six years.

The roster is blessed with skill position talent, including star junior quarterback Brad Birch, the WPIAL’s top passer a year ago. If the blocking is reinforced as expected, it makes life easier for Birch, running back Jaquon Reynolds and a Gators offense that has the potential to be dangerous.

The five starting linemen are senior center Baron Vowler (5-9, 235), second left guard Chase Gabriel (6-1, 275), junior right guard Jake Santo (6-3, 260), senior right tackle Louie Douglas (5-11, 240) and left tackle Brooks (6-2, 255).

“Our tackles are going to be super athletic and our two guards are going to be big strong,” coach Don Holl said, “so I think we have a chance to be pretty good all the way.”

Tight ends aren’t small either – junior Remy Bose (6-2, 210) and senior Racari El (6-1, 205).

Combined, Holl said he sees an offensive line that’s a year older, clearly stronger and better used by coaches. All five linemen started at some point last season, but a few have new positions this year.

“We kind of changed the philosophy because our tackles are doing more athletic things,” Holl said. “They usually block guys who look like defensive end or outside support in a lot of plays. So we have become more sporty outside and more physical inside. I think we’re going to be pretty good from the start, and I think we’re going to be very good in terms of skills.

Gateway went 7-4 last season, 4-1 in the Big East. The Gators reached the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs but lost in the first round when they played without two of their starting linemen.

The regular season schedule included losses to Thomas Jefferson, Pine-Richland and conference rival Penn-Trafford, opponents who had strong defensive lines. The Gators have averaged 46 points in seven wins and 11 in three losses.

“Against average players we held our own,” Holl said. “You can get around it sometimes by being skillful or getting the ball out quickly or whatever. Against good players, if you can’t block the threesome technique and it’s free, nothing will work.

Still, there were plenty of bright spots.

Birch passed for a WPIAL record 2,623 yards and threw for 27 touchdowns in his first season with the Gators. Birch is part of a talented junior class that is beginning to attract Division I offers.

Reynolds, who rushed for 604 yards, has offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Temple and UMass. Bose, linebacker and tight end, lists UMass and Toledo.

However, the team licensed wide receiver/safety Patrick Body, a rookie from Cincinnati. Body led the team with 43 catches for 882 yards. Second receiver Brett Birch (33 catches) also graduated, so there are job opportunities.

Senior Malachi Moore, Anez Jordan and Dallas Harper will bolster this receiving corps.

Gateway is targeting its third WPIAL title in six years after winning in 2019 and 2017. Five different schools have won a WPIAL 5A title since expanding the sport in 2016, but the Gators are the only team to have two.

“You don’t want to set goals everywhere, but I think we’re pretty good,” Holl said. “We had the Seniors BBQ at my house and my message to them was…if we maximize what we have I think we could be as good as anybody. It’s a big “if”, but if we do, it would be really good.

bridge

Coach: Don Holl

Record 2021: 7-4, 4-1 in Class 5A Big East Conference

All-time record: 449-220-13

PROGRAM

Date, opponent, time

8.26 Mt. Lebanon, 7

9.2 Wooded hills, 7

9.9 in North Hills, 7

9.16 at Franklin Regional*, 7

9.23 Plum*, 7

9:30 a.m. at Hempfield*, 7

10.7 Penn-Trafford*, 7

10.14 at McKeesport, 7

10.21 Norwin*, 7

10:28 a.m. at the Catholic Center, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Who passed: Brad Birch

162-269, 2,623 yards, 27 touchdowns

Dash : Jaquon Reynolds

150-604, 6TD

Reception : Patrick Body*

45-882, 7TD

* Graduate

FAST FACTS

• Don Holl is 57-16 in six seasons at Gateway with six playoff appearances, two WPIAL titles and a PIAA finalist.

• Brad Birch (quarterback), Matt Brooks (defensive tackle) and Remy Bose (outside linebacker) earned first-team all-conference honors last year.

• Birch, a junior, needed just two seasons to surpass 4,000 career passing yards. He played his first season at Jeannette.

Chris Harlan is an editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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