Gateway 8th grade football team completes perfect season
Some coaches look for galvanizing moments all season long and never get one. The Gateway eighth grade football team had its before the season even began.
When a thunderstorm rolled through preseason practice one day this past August, third-year coach Zack Smith moved his team to the middle-school gym. But with kids being kids, the change in location came with a break in concentration and focus. So instead of getting back to running drills, Smith led his team to the school’s trophy case.
“I noticed that they were too talkative and not concentrating at the time,” said Smith. “I was trying to grab their attention, and then it happened.”
The team put last season to bed. Not satisfied with last season’s 6-1-1 record in the Westmoreland Area Athletic Directors Association Big School Conference and first section title since 2005, the Gators set new goals.
“(Last year’s record was) not perfect, and at that point the common goal was to make it perfect and that’s what they did,” Smith said.
What took place over the next three months hadn’t been done since 1979. Given the amount of talent that has passed through Gateway since the late ’70s, it seems almost absurd to think the Gators have not gone undefeated since disco was in style.
“Everybody was like, ‘How do you beat that? How do you top it?’ ” Smith said. “Undefeated and un-scored-upon. You got to have goals when you have children, and you got to have them focused.”
The Gators went 8-0.
“They call it a perfect season, but every day was as close to perfect as it can get,” Smith said. “I never had that kind of communication (before) that I had with these kids. These kids never stopped or gave up.”
The Gators hit the ground running. Gateway outscored opponents by an average of 41-6 through the first six games, including shutout wins over Plum and Franklin Regional. They were led by quarterback Chris Livesy’s 22 rushing touchdowns.
“We outscored everybody this year by a lot,” Smith said.
Then came the Week 7 matchup with Connellsville.
The Falcons’ size always had been a problem for the Gators, but not this season. Gateway came away with a 24-14 win after tying Connellsville last season.
It was the Gators’ tightest win of the season to that point.
“We started getting a little worried towards the end. Connellsville gave us a run,” Smith said. “The size of those kids is unbelievable.”
A humbling moment is exactly what the Gators needed going into the final week of the season and facing long-time rival McKeesport.
The Tigers were riding a two-game win streak when the McKeesport bus pulled up. Gateway was riding a 13-game win streak of its own. The last time the Gators lost was in September of 2017, and it was to McKeesport.
“There was 300 to 400 people at the middle school to watch an eighth grade game,” Smith said. “There were people standing against the fence and the parking lot.”
With the help of rushing touchdowns from Chris Ireland and Livesy and a receiving touchdown by Demetrius Harper, the Gators raced out to a 24-0 first-half lead.
“The kids (were) really, really geeked up for (the game),” Smith said. “They brought out their best.”
Livesy added another rushing touchdown, and Ahmad Harris rushed for one late in the second half to help deliver a 36-6 win over McKeesport and put an unblemished football in the trophy case.
“These kids never stopped or gave up,” Smith said. “I really think a lot of these kids, you’re gonna see their names again.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.