Friday night's Class AAAA contest between Gateway and North Allegheny may not be a conference game, but Gators coach Donnie Militzer is treating it as an important matchup.
"We view this as a big, big football game," Militzer said. "Our players feel they have some unfinished business after losing to them last year."
Just like last season, Gateway (5-0) will enter the game against the Tigers undefeated. But the Gators haven't won any of their five games by more than 21 points and two have been by single digits. That includes last Friday's game against Hempfield Area, when the Gators scored a last-minute touchdown to win, 22-16.
"We are where we want to be at 5-0," said Militzer, who is in his inaugural season as Gators head coach. "We may just have less hair."
Quarterback Jimmy Moore spearheaded the win, driving the team 80 yards in 1:21 with no timeouts, culminating with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Delvon Randall with 39 seconds remaining to help the Gators overcome a 16-14 deficit.
Moore threw for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the game. For the season, the senior first-year starter has thrown for 951 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's been fantastic," Militzer said. "He's so calm and cool. He expected to win on that last drive [against Hempfield]. Then he went out and threw four perfect balls."
It helps Moore that he has arguably the best set of receiving talent in the WPIAL. Montae Nicholson is the top recruit in Pennsylvania, according to Rivals.com; Ricky Rogers is committed to West Virginia; and Randall and Anthony Davis are being recruited by many Division I schools even though they have given verbal commitments to Temple.
North Allegheny has one of the best defensive backs in the state in Pitt recruit Elijah Zeise, but he can only cover one of Gateway's receivers at a time.
"So much of our success will have to be team-oriented," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "All 11 guys will have to do their job and do what they're supposed to do."
The Tigers, the three-time defending WPIAL champions, clamped down on the Gators in last season's regular-season matchup, holding Gateway to just a field goal in a 14-3 North Allegheny win.
But the Tigers, the defending PIAA Class AAAA champions, have many new faces this year and two weeks ago, experienced a rare occurrence -- a loss.
North Allegheny fell to Seneca Valley, 20-6, on Sept. 13, the team's first loss since Dec. 10, 2011.
But the Tigers rebounded with a 29-28 victory against Pine-Richland followed by a 58-3 drubbing of Butler Area this past Friday.
"I'm happy with the way we responded, especially on the road [Friday] against Butler," Walker said. "Last time we were on the road, we lost and had a lot of mistakes. But we played much better this time.
"These last two games were big conference games that we needed to win and we did."
The win against Butler was even more impressive considering the team's top two running backs -- Josh Bergman and Sean Idowu -- missed the game due to injuries. Bergman sustained an ankle injury in the loss to Seneca Valley, while Idowu sustained a foot injury against the Rams.
Walker is hoping both players will be back this week, but in their absence Isaac Weaver had a big game. A senior, Weaver rushed for 111 yards on eight carries and scored on runs of 32 and 39 yards.
"Isaac filled in tremendously with the injuries suffered to our other running backs," Walker said. "He came up and helped us a little on the varsity as a freshman, so he's been a part of this team four years and has helped out on offense or defense, just wherever we needed him."
Considering Gateway allowed close to 200 rushing yards to Hempfield Friday night, Weaver, Bergman and Idowu could play major roles this week as the Tigers attempt to win their 24th consecutive home game.
The previous time the Tigers lost at home was Sept. 18, 2009, a 23-14 defeat to Upper St. Clair.
"We know they have a long winning streak there, since their loss [this season] was against Seneca Valley on the road," Militzer said. "Our kids are very eager to get out there and show they're one of the best teams in the WPIAL. There is no better place to show that than at North Allegheny."
• Game: Gateway (5-0) vs. North Allegheny (4-1).
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
• Skinny: The defending PIAA and WPIAL Class AAAA champs look to get their swagger back against undefeated Gateway.