If there was one opponent that members of the Gateway High School football team wanted to draw at some point in the playoffs this season it was Central Catholic.
Although they haven't been conference rivals since 1997 -- going back to the days of the old Quad East Conference -- the Gators and Central Catholic clashed in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs a handful of times over the past decade, including an epic 2007 championship showdown that Central Catholic won, 35-34, in overtime.
The Gators, though, haven't beaten the Vikings since the 1996 regular season and have suffered 10 consecutive losses to Central Catholic.
"Our kids know all about that and these seniors would love to end that stretch," first-year Gateway coach Donnie Militzer said. "It would be the first step in a big stamp that this senior class wants to leave as a legacy.
"They talked about hopefully playing Central in the playoffs, so now we'll get to see what we can do against them. Not beating them since the 1990s is pretty good motivation."
Seeded No. 2 in the Class AAAA bracket, Central Catholic (10-0) will face No. 7 seed Gateway (8-2) in the WPIAL quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Fox Chapel Area High School's James Burk Memorial Stadium.
"Anytime you get to this point in the year, you're going to play the best teams," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "We have a history, so the emotions will be built up and both teams will be playing at their best."
Gateway is coming off a 33-21 first-round win against North Hills. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Gators, who dropped two Foothills Conference games against Penn-Trafford and McKeesport at the end of the regular season.
"Coming off those two losses, we didn't know what to expect," Militzer said. "We got off to a quick start against North Hills and even when they battled back, we didn't panic. We've been like the cardiac Gators all season, playing in a lot of close games."
Quarterback Jimmy Moore paced Gateway's offense against North Hills by completing 15 of 26 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns. Ricky Rogers, Montae Nicholson, Delvon Randall and Anthony Davis each caught touchdown passes from Moore. Randall also scored a key 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter against the Indians.
"Gateway is very well coached and disciplined," Totten said. "They have a lot of high flyers in their secondary. Their quarterback is gutsy and he makes plays. They also have other kids who have a lot of big-play potential.
"They're a very good football team."
Central Catholic, which is outscoring opponents by an average of 46.1-3.7, enters the quarterfinals following a 56-10 first-round romp against Baldwin. The Vikings scored 28 points in the second quarter and piled up 509 yards of total offense against the Highlanders after Baldwin scored first.
"We came out and started slow but got right back into it," Totten said. "We came back in the second half and ended up playing the type of football we like to play. Our ground game came through for us again and our defense also played very well."
Quarterback J. J. Cosentino rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns as well as threw for 96 yards and a touchdown against Baldwin. Luigi Lista-Brinza, who sat out two regular-season games with an ankle injury, returned and rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Riley Redman also rushed for 102 yards and two scores on eight carries.
"Obviously, they've been one of the top Quad-A teams all year and rightly so," Militzer said. "They don't do anything fancy. They play hard-nosed football and have good players who get the job done. They run the ball right at you. They are committed to the run and have the ability to make you pay for your mistakes.
"Defensively, they have the best defense I've seen. [Senior linebacker] Niko Thorpe in the middle is a special player."
Totten, though, believes his team needs simply to keep playing as sharp as it has been all season.
"We have to come out and make big, impact plays," Totten said. "We're going to need to play a little crisper with what we do early in the football game.
"I'm going to need to get 48 strong minutes out of my players because any letdown will end up being the difference."
The two teams last played one another in 2011 and Central Catholic won that non-conference game, 13-7. The last time the two schools faced each other in the playoffs was in 2010 when the Vikings eliminated the Gators in the quarterfinals, 10-0.
"We have to stop their running game, and I know it's easier said than done," Militzer said. "We have to force them to try to throw the ball as much as possible.
"For us offensively, we have to try to get our playmakers the ball in space. Jimmy threw to four different kids for touchdowns last week, so that's big. When you spread the ball around it makes us tough to defend."