Two of the most successful programs in Class AAAA over the past decade will meet on the CMU campus Thursday evening when the Gators and Vikings engage in a rare late-season non-conference battle. Considering what these squads have accomplished in recent years, it seems unusual that the all-time series has headed in the same direction as Steelers-Browns, with Central dominating its Monroeville area counterparts on several occasions.
Gateway enters this meeting having lost five straight to the Vikings since the turn of the century, and though Terry Smith will never forget the last one, a 35-34 OT loss in the 2007 WPIAL Championship, I'm sure he and his current crop of seniors would like to. But better times are being had by the current Gators, who are riding a four-game winning streak during which they have outscored opponents by an average of 38.5-6.0. The No. 5 scoring defense in Quad-A has been powered by a number of individuals including Sascha Craig and Armstead Williams, while on the other side of the ball, freshman Tom Woodson is getting a little more comfy under center and the running game has started to click. But what they've done looks pedestrian compared to the accomplishments of Damion Jones-Moore, one of the top five rushers and scorers in Quad-A, who should return this week from a groin injury. With QB Perry Hills providing newfound balance, Central boasts the No. 3 scoring offense in Quad-A, averaging more than 33 points over its six wins, not to mention the fourth-ranked defense. These were the first two teams to clinch playoff berths in the classification, and it is very conceivable they could see each other again in late November.
WHO: Gateway Gators (4-0, 4-2) @ Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings (4-0, 6-0).
WHERE: Gesling Stadium, Carnegie Mellon University.
WHEN: Kickoff is at 7:05 Thursday night; the game can be seen on FSN on tape delay following Big XII football coverage.
LAST WEEK: The Gators are coming off a 33-0 shutout of Hempfield in Foothills Conference play in which they clinched a playoff berth and Tom Woodson threw for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 8-of-17 passing. The Vikings are coming off a 33-6 Big East Conference win over Plum in which they clinched a playoff berth and another freshman, tailback Luigi Lista-Brinza, had a big game, rushing for 170 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
PREDICTION: As I said, history has not been kind to the Gators in this matchup, but their talented secondary won't be kind to Perry Hills either. Look for them to provide blanket coverage and try to take away the pass from Central Catholic's arsenal. On the plus side for the Vikings, respecting the passing game would open up holes for Damion Jones-Moore, who has a habit of making defenders of all sizes and skill levels look silly. However, Gateway right now is playing the kind of steady, anonymous defense that can pose problems for even a high-octane offense like this one, especially if Jones-Moore is still not 100 percent. Although I believe, in the long run, the Vikings are the better team, Mr. High School Sports is going to take a risk and go with the Gators and their "D" in a tight one this week. WINNER: GATEWAY.
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