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Top-ranked Gateway to be tested by undefeated Franklin Regional in Big East Conference

October 4, 2018
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Franklin Regional's Nick Leopold runs the ball against Plum on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 at Franklin Regional High School.

Gateway coach Don Holl isn’t totally surprised Franklin Regional is tied for first place with his Gators in the WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference.

And he knows his top-ranked Gators, who haven’t been tested since Week 1 against Penn-Trafford, will have to play well to remain on top of the standings. Gateway is the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion and PIAA runner-up.

Many of Gateway’s players have been involved in games like this.

“I knew they’d be good,” Holl said. “They had the quarterback back and some good athletes back. And they’re always well-coached and prepared.”

Gateway (6-0, 3-0) will make the short trip east from Monroeville to Murrysville on Route 22 Friday for a first-place showdown with Franklin Regional (5-0, 3-0). Gateway won last year’s game 33-17, pulling away in the second half.

Gateway has breezed the past few weeks, defeating Ringgold (62-0) and North Hills (45-0).

“If we weren’t putting teams away early, we wouldn’t be doing our job,” Holl said. “Also, our players are staying fresh because we are resting them with a big lead. This is a long season.”

One concern for Gateway before the season was replacing graduated quarterback Brady Walker. Senior Brendan Majocha has exceeded expectations.

He has completed 65 of 100 passes for 1,126 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 406 yards and two scores.

Majocha has been aided by the return of wide receivers Courtney Jackson, who has 19 catches for 440 yards and seven touchdowns, and Jeremiah Josephs, who has 12 catches for 242 yards and two scores. Derrick Davis is the Gators’ main running threat with 640 yards and nine touchdowns.

“We knew what Brendan could do,” Holl said. “He learned a lot watching Brady, and he’s done a great job.”

Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta knows slowing down Gateway’s potent offense won’t be easy, especially missing two starting linebackers to injury.

“Gateway has a talented group of players, a lot with Division I offers,” Botta said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re excited to be playing at home. Anything can happen.

“We’ve fought through some injuries. We’ve had players step up, and our motto here is ‘next man up.’ That’s what we’ve built here.”

And Botta is confident he will get a winning effort from his players.

“We have some good skilled athletes too,” Botta said. “We have speed all throughout the secondary and at the receiver position. We’ve done a good job limiting our opponents. ”

Senior quarterback Adam Rudzinski has shown improvement and become a leader. He’s completed 49 of 90 passes for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. His main targets are Nick Leopold, with 20 catches for 303 yards and eight touchdowns, and Mike Evans, who has 13 catches for 388 yards and four scores.

“Patience is the key,” Evans said. “We have to be able to match their speed.”

Gateway’s defense is limiting opponents to an average of 5.7 points per game while scoring 45.5. Franklin Regional is averaging 38 points per game and allowing 9.6.

“We have to be disciplined and play our game,” Rudzinski said. “We have to study our opponent and know them inside and out. I love playing in games like this. You shouldn’t be playing if you’re not excited.”

Leopold added: “No one is giving us a chance. I love playing at home.”

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