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Gateway vs. McKeesport was only the appetizer

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You didn’t hear Terry Smith apologize did you?

Nope, and why should he?

With the four-week WPIAL playoff tournament not set to begin until next Friday, Smith, the hugely successful Gateway coach, pretty much said: Why bother?

Actually, he wasn’t that blatant, but he appeared to have his thumb squarely on the pulse of the Class AAAA playoffs when he said — after his Gateway team’s 31-27 victory against McKeesport on Thursday night — that those teams will meet again Nov. 22 at Heinz Field in the WPIAL championship game.

“In my opinion, this is a preview of what’s coming to Heinz Field,” Smith said, “unless (the WPIAL) puts us in the same bracket.”

Not to put any added pressure on those teams, but I’ll bet you my Thanksgiving turkey leg, he’s right.

Not only did McKeesport (7-2, 6-1) rally from a 28-0 deficit that Gateway built late in the first half, but it actually outgained the Gators — No. 4 in three national polls and No. 1 in the Tribune-Review rankings — 321-313, in total yards.

McKeesport quarterback Ty-Meer Brown is as exciting as any Gateway player, including Ohio State recruits Dorian Bell and Cory Brown, but Ty-Meer’s 113 yards and three touchdowns only tell part of the story. He runs with a big heart and determination and legs that are difficult to keep still, even when he is hit from several angles.

On the other side, Bell looked like he is not far from growing into a big-time college linebacker. Against McKeesport, he played bigger than his 6-foot, 226-pound frame because he hit like a truck and was almost never out of position.

Maybe he won’t be the best Big Ten linebacker since Dick Butkus, but my guess is that Buckeyes fans won’t be disappointed.

Quad-A outlook

The Quad-A playoffs will be interesting as the field gets whittled down to what many consider its inevitable conclusion.

Each conference champion was undefeated in its league games.

* Penn Hills is 5-0 in the Quad East (1-3 outside of it). Still, Penn Hills has won six of its past seven, with only a three-point loss to North Allegheny marring that stretch.

* North Hills is 5-0 in the Quad North, two games better than its formidable rivals. North Allegheny, Shaler and Pine-Richland finished second, third and fourth, respectively, with two losses each.

* Bethel Park is 5-0 in the Quad West, with a 28-10 victory against runnerup Canon-McMillan. Plus, it joins Gateway as the only overall unbeaten teams in Quad-A.

* Gateway is 5-0 after allowing an average of only nine points per game in conference games.

Class AAA outlook

Highlands is the only overall undefeated in Class AAA, but most scholastic observers believe Thomas Jefferson, which has not lost to a WPIAL team, will sail unmarked through the playoffs.

Don’t be surprised if any one of those four Parkway Conference qualifiers meets either Highlands or TJ at Heinz Field. To show you how competitive the Parkway is this season, Blackhawk is 8-1 and its only loss was to West Allegheny, which didn’t make the playoffs.

Class AA outlook

Keep an eye on unbeaten Shady Side Academy and 8-1 Seton-La Salle, which shutout Keystone Oaks, 20-0, on Friday night.

But superior athletes and coaching win high school games, and Jeannette, Greensburg Central Catholic and Beaver Falls have a little of both.

Class A outlook

Clairton may be the best team in the smallest classifications after recording five shutouts and never allowing more than seven points in any of its nine games. That may go down as the most amazing season-long effort in the WPIAL.

How good is Avonworth? Who knows? Running back Khiry Watts and the Worthies — that’s its unofficial nickname — may get to perform on the Heinz Field stage against Clairton.

Avella scores

Finally, a shout to Avella, which finished its game last week with 10 players, but came back for more Friday and did something it has done almost every week this season — score a touchdown. Avella was winless, but it was only shutout twice.

In a 41-8 loss to Burgettstown, 6-foot-0 150-pound sophomore Jared Magon scored on a 3-yard run and two-point conversion. Many people wanted Avella to quit when its numbers dwindled to less than 20 players, but it played to the end and scored a touchdown in the final quarter of the season.

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