MONROEVILLE, Pa. — In 2021, Mt. Lebanon (0-1) was the surprise team who beat the powerhouse Pittsburgh Central Catholic on their way to winning a PIAA 6A Championship. On the flip side, it was the Gateway Gators (1-0) who were a bit of a disappointment with a first-round exit in the 5A playoffs after many projected them to win the WPIAL.
Tonight was a strong reminder that last year was last year, and this year is this year. Gateway showed that they are on a mission to prove that they are back, beating Mt. Lebanon, a team that looked like they lost a corps of seniors who led the team to states, 21-6.
Early into the first half, Gateway appeared to have the same problems as the season prior. Their offensive line was the weakness, and playing up against a 6A helped show off the contrasting play in the trenches. It forced Gateway to run screens, and draws, and had their star quarterback Brad Birch rolling out, and dropping back deep into the pocket.
Birch completed a couple of big passes to get Gateway into scoring range, but an illegal block in the back had the team facing 4th down with 20 yards to go at the Mt. Lebanon 34-yard line. Birch dropped and took a few more steps back before lobbing a pass up to Dallas Harper.
The defender got caught in his own feet and Harper jumped uncontested to haul in the pass and give Gateway a 7-0 lead. They took the lead into halftime as Mt. Lebanon was still feeling the effects of lost stars from their 2021 PIAA championship run.
The Blue Devils moved the ball slowly and relied on meticulous dials of the wildcat, end-around, and screen passes. Still, Gateway was sound tackling led by Racari El, Demetrius Harper, and Remy Bose.
Birch and the Gators drove into the red zone, but an interception ended any hopes of scoring. Fortunately, Dallas Harper showed off his hands on defense and jumped a route, and had a strong return that put Gateway at the 21. On the next play, Harper was screaming over the middle of the field when Birch nailed him in stride, and Harper took it to the house, giving Gateway a 14-0 lead.
The way that the Gators’ defense was playing started to give the feel that 14 may be enough for this one. Mt. Lebo responded with one of their best drives of the game. However, two incompletions set up fourth down, when Remy Bose came ripping up the middle for a sack that stopped any momentum Mt. Lebo gained.
Gateway continued to be overwhelmed in the trenches on offense, and it kept the door open for Mt. Lebo. The Blue Devils methodically moved down the field with multiple quarterbacks and a wildcat run that capped it off. The Beckham Dee touchdown run was accompanied by a missed extra point, so the Gators still led 14-6 after the Devils’ best strike.
Gateway faced a third down with nine yards to go on the ensuing drive and needed to move the chains to keep Mt. Lebo off of the field. Birch threw one of his more impressive passes, a far hash throw to Dallas Harper who converted the first down, helping the team bleed the precious clock in a one-score game.
Gateway picked up two more first downs, and Mt. Lebanon decided it was time to blitz and force their hand. That is when Birch hit Anez Jordan over the middle of the field who ran about 15 yards after the catch to give the team a 21-6 lead with under five minutes to go. The Blue Devils did not have enough time or horsepower to respond.
Gateway will host Woodland Hills next week, while Mt. Lebanon will host Bethel Park.