Kiski Area looks to challenge No. 1 Gateway in Class 5A opening round
Anticipating a potential first-round playoff game against Gateway, Kiski Area coach Sam Albert pulled up some film on the Gators early Monday.
What he saw surpassed his already-high opinion.
“I mean, they’re unbelievable,” Albert said. “A lot of teams with their skill don’t have linemen, but they’ve got one of the best lines I’ve seen. So not only do they have skill, but they’re big up front, they’re well-coached. They’re the best team in the state.”
As far as challenges go, No. 16 Kiski Area (3-7) faces a massive one in the opening round of the WPIAL Class 5A postseason on Friday: top-seeded Gateway (10-0), a defending WPIAL champion that rolled through the regular season with the highest-scoring offense (49.5 points per game) and stingiest defense (4.3 ppg) in the classification.
The Cavaliers are making their first playoff appearance since 2015 and are seeking their first postseason victory since 1990.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons all around, so it’s something we’ve got to think about and deal with,” Kiski Area senior Jack Colecchi said. “So it’s up to us to make the plays we need to make.
“I love those types of games, for sure. With their name, they get a lot of credibility and they get a lot of (attention). If I can go out there and do what I need to do and have a good game, that will help me out a lot. The competition is for sure something I like the most about it.”
Gateway and Kiski Area played together in the Class 5A Big East Conference in 2016 and ’17 before realignment split them up this season. The Gators beat the Cavaliers, 61-21, last season.
“I have a lot of respect for Sam and all the things he’s done,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “We’re good friends, and he does a heck of a job. They’re a good football team with kids that represent that district. They’re tough kids, they’re hard-nosed kids, they play hard, I think they play smart. They’re going to show up and give you a game when you see them on Friday night.”
Kiski Area became the fifth school Albert led to the WPIAL playoffs, joining Butler, Freeport, Highlands and Valley.
It didn’t come easily: After a 3-1 start, the Cavaliers lost their final six games of the regular season, culminating in a 24-21 Week 9 defeat to Armstrong. Kiski Area received a reprieve in the form of the WPIAL’s wild-card system, the Cavaliers’ early success proving enough for them to advance to the playoffs as the 16th seed out of 5A.
“There were mistakes we made (last week) that if you take away (we win),” Albert said. “That’s part of the process. Everywhere I’ve been, you don’t come in and just turn that around in two years.
“If you say to me last year, hey, you won one game: Would you be happy if you got to win three, be competitive and make the playoffs? Well, (heck) yes. We (improved) from year one to year two and hopefully as a program you can continue to progress.”
Senior Ryne Wallace finished third in Class 5A with 1,666 passing yards, including 14 touchdowns. Colecchi, who caught 34 passes for 636 yards, needs 20 more yards to become Kiski Area’s all-time leading receiver, while tight end Troy Kuhn has a pair of Division I offers from Duquesne and Robert Morris.
Gateway lost Brady Walker, the WPIAL’s second all-time leading passer, after last season, but senior Brendan Majocha capably filled his shoes with 1,919 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and one interception. Courtney Jackson, a Syracuse recruit, led 5A with 771 receiving yards, while sophomore run/catch threat Derrick Davis already has several Division I offers.
Only Latrobe scored more than seven points against Gateway this season, and only Penn-Trafford held the Gators below 30.
“I thought our kids were great about everything they needed to do, in the offseason, in the preseason and throughout the season,” Holl said. “I think our guys have been focused on doing all the things we need to do to be successful, and I think the results have pointed themselves out.”
A longtime WPIAL coach, Albert has experienced both sides of playoff upsets. The Cavaliers have a chance to pull the ultimate one.
“It’s a lot of mentality, really,” Colecchi said. “Any team can upset any team if they have the right game.”