WPIAL “AAAA” Championship Preview
Written by: Josh Funk on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
The Game: Bethel Park (7 AAAA) @ Gateway (7 AAAA)
Date: Saturday, Nov. 22nd, from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
2008 Record: Bethel Park (12-0), Gateway (12-0)
About the WPIAL “AAAA” championship: This title game would have been disappointing had Gateway not qualified. The Gators came into the year with much hype, the #1 ranking in every major statewide poll, and a top-5 national ranking in two polls. To say the least, Gateway was expected to be at this point. But Bethel Park? Wasn’t McKeesport Area supposed to meet Gateway again?
It appeared that would be the case as the Tigers got by Upper St. Clair and Pittsburgh Central Catholic, setting up a showdown with Bethel Park. But McKeesport’s anticipated rematch with the powerful Gators was not to be. Bethel Park got 14 unanswered points to win, 20-13, and earn its first ever trip to Heinz Field and the school’s second title game appearance since 1980.
That’s right – Bethel Park hasn’t ever won a WPIAL football championship. And the Black Hawks’ last title game appearance came 28 years ago, when Mount Lebanon High School was in the offing of a four-titles-in-five-years run under WPIAL legend Art Walker, Sr.
Bethel Park lost to Mount Lebanon 30-14, and never again made a finals appearance. So to say that this is uncharted territory for the Black Hawks is not a stretch. However, Bethel Park is a battle-tested team, as it comes from the Great Southern Conference, one of the traditionally stronger conferences in the WPIAL.
The Black Hawks average 32.4 points per game, and have scored 40 or more points five times this season, including three times in the past four weeks. Bethel Park is led by quarterback Erik Olson, running backs Lyle Marsh and Bre Ford, and wide receiver John Schademan.
Defensively, Bethel Park hasn’t shut a single opponent out, but has held eight of their 12 opponents to 14 points or less.
Gateway, meanwhile, is one point away from the school’s first-ever 500-point season. The previous high for points scored came in 2003, when the Gators scored 459 points, a mark this edition of the Gators surpassed two weeks ago.
The best way to describe Gateway is like one of those juggernauts on the video game NCAA Football. Even when teams hit the Gators with their best shot, like McDowell in Week 7 or McKeesport in Week 9, Gateway always finds a way to prevail.
Running backs Brian Williams (1,568 yards, 18 TD) and Dorian Bell (825 yards, 15 TD) are well on their way to becoming Pennsylvania’s 29th 1,000-yard backfield duo since 2002. The duo helps pace a Gator ground game which averages 256.3 yards per game.
Junior field general Robert Kalkstein directs the Gateway offense, which averages 41.6 points per game. Kalkstein, a three-year starter, has thrown for a career-high 1,661 yards and 21 touchdowns. In his career, the junior has thrown for over 3,700 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Kalkstein’s favorite targets are Ohio State commit Corey Brown (39 rec., 686 yards, school-record 15 TD), Josh Vermeulen (18, 411, 3), and Jeff Parrish (13, 170, 2).
All told, Gateway averages over 400 yards of total offense per game, but defensively, the Gators are equally, if not more, impressive.
For starters, the Gators have only allowed 109 points on the season – 40 of which came in two games against Penn Hills. Take away those 40 Indian points, and Gateway has, in the 10 other games, allowed a microscopic 6.9 points per game.
The defensive statistics you are about to read are fact. Don’t do a double take. This is how good the Gator defense is.
Dorian Bell, an Ohio State commit who led the team in tackles a year ago with 131, is second this year with 100. Bell also has seven sacks. He’s second to Delbert Tyler, who has totaled 101 tackles, three sacks, picked off a pass, and recovered a fumble.
Jeff Parrish adds 77 tackles and six sacks on top of two fumble recoveries, but the most impressive stat line comes from defensive end Brendan Stevens, who is a Miami Ohio commit. Stevens has racked up 80 tackles and recovered two fumbles, but has also posted an astounding 21 quarterback sacks.
Gateway also boasts a team turnover ratio of +16.
The Gators have won five WPIAL titles in their history, but none since 1986. Gateway has won three titles outright and tied in two others.
Head coach Terry Smith has a career record of 65-18, and he’s making his third WPIAL title game appearance since 2004.
Gateway individual stats from Maxpreps.com; Bethel Park and Gateway program statistics are from the 2007 WPIAL finals program.
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