The 1972 Gateway Gator Championship Football Team finally earned the respect due the Gateway Gator Football program. If the 1969 team “put Gateway on the map” then the 1972 team sketched the directions to Three Rivers Stadium and Pitt Stadium. For the next 15 years, Gateway football and post season play went hand in hand. After Gateway defeated Altoona in 1969 for it’s first of many WPIAL football titles, the Gators posted respectable seasons of 6-2-1 in 1970 and 7-2 in 1971. In 1971 the sophomore junior varsity football team had an undefeated season. The junior class on the 1971 team consisted of many top athletes and varsity letter earners. These two groups would combine to form one of the greatest football teams in Gateway history. Beginning in the winter of 1971-72, the coaches, who supervised winter conditioning, knew that they had their hands on a potentially great football team. They started pushing for focus immediately following the 1971 football season.
The 1972 practice season got off to a bad start. The senior starting tailback broke his leg early in practice and was out for the season. The team was made up of so many super athletes that someone was expected to step up and take over. With the abundance of talent available, the coaches decided to try to get more players involved in the game. This may have been the first Gateway team that really utilized the two platoon system. There were only one or two players that played both offense and defense, but not full time. The two platoon system kept your key players fresh and ready for the fourth quarter. Many of the non starters played on special teams. Of the starting 22, 12 were seniors and 10 were juniors. A perfect mix. As good as the offense was, it was the defense that ultimately was responsible for the championship. 7 shut outs in 11 games.
Back in 1972, you had to remain undefeated to reach the playoffs. The team seemed to have promise and had two good scrimmages to start the season. However, after an opening 14-12 win over Seneca Valley, questions remained as to how good this team was or how good it could become. The key with any good football team is to get better each and every game. The next four opponents; Steel Valley, East Allegheny, Fox Chapel and Churchill were defeated by a combined 140-0. At this point the Gators were 5-0 and rolling. The next game was scheduled as an away game at Sto-Rox. Sto-Rox was lead by Chuck Fusina, who, at the time, was a big time college football prospect ( he later stared at Penn State). As always, the Gators were not to be denied. A 24-13 win and a 6-0 record.
That night as the players were leaving the stadium area, the team bus was stoned and many players were covered with glass. Thank goodness no one was injured. That violence seemed to open the eyes of coaches, players and parents. After that night the Sto-Rox rivalry became a Saturday afternoon battle. The last three games of the regular season were scheduled with North Allegheny, North Hills and Shaler. North Allegheny was handily defeated 17-0. Next was the annual North Hills rivalry. What a game. Going into the 3rd quarter, the Gators were behind 18-7. In big games, the cream always rises to the top. All members of the 1972 team would agree, Mark O’Toole was the driving force that propelled the team to excellence. The team was made up of many great athletes, however, when the team was down they always looked towards Mark. With the Gators trailing, Mark calmly entered the huddle with encouragement and, as he did so many other times, led his team to victory. His passing and running abilities were put on the stage that night and Mark delivered. A great individual performance and a hard fought team effort, Gateway 20 North Hills 18. The North Hills Indians were not going to spoil the Gateway season. A 15-0 victory over Shaler ended a 9-0 undefeated regular season. The playoffs were next.
There were only four undefeated teams in 1972 to battle for the WPIAL AA football title. 1972 was the first year that Three Rivers Stadium was used for the playoffs. What a thrill it was for the Gators to be included in the initial WPIAL high school football history at Three Rivers Stadium. Kiski was the first opponent and Gateway was a three touchdown underdog (the 1969 victory over Altoona wasn’t enough – we still needed respect). Most people did not give the Gators much of a chance against the bigger and more powerful team from Kiski. Prior to the game, the coaches and players felt a closeness that could not be described in words. As he had done before, Mark O’Toole had many fellow players in tears before the game. That night the team would have followed Mark anywhere to do anything. He was that powerful of a leader. The Gators beat Kiski soundly that night. The score 22-13 did not indicate the pounding that the Gators put on Kiski. The next paragraph comes from Mark O’Toole’s Hall of Fame induction biography last year: “In the fourth quarter with about five minutes to go, Tom Kopaczynski broke a 35 to 40 yard run and it became evident that we were going to win. The crowd was cheering and everyone could sense the victory. Gregg Nemec and I had played together for the past six years as Center and Quarterback and together we took our time and walked those 35 to 40 yards just taking time to enjoy the moment.”
It was decided in the locker room that night at Three Rivers Stadium that Gateway would be the 1972 WPIAL AA Champions. The team didn’t realize that they first needed to defeat Jeannette at Pitt Stadium the following week. The Gators were completely flat the first half of the Jeannette championship game. Halftime score Gateway 0 Jeannette 0. What an interesting half time talk it was. The Gators got their behinds handed to them by their coaches. For some reason, the Gators were still patting themselves on the back for the Kiski win. The coaches put everything back into perspective and along with a renewed determination, the Gators put it all together and defeated Jeannette 20-0 for it’s 7th shut out, third undefeated season, 2nd WPIAL Football Championship, 1st State Football Championship and most importantly, the respect that had been earned by the boys from Monroeville and Pitcairn. Gateway was now a force in the WPIAL.
Coaching has always been the key to the successful Gateway football program. Football is a very emotional game, especially at the high school level. Coach Antimarino and his entire coaching staff always knew how to handle young athletes emotions in addition to understanding the X’s and O’s of football. His offensive schemes utilized his personnel to the fullest. Coach Betts gets the credit for putting together one of the greatest defensive units in Gateway history. You might not believe it but Coach Antimarino’s Gateway football philosophy always started with defense, not off tackle. Defense always wins championships, and he knew it. Coach Klipa, in addition to coaching the lineman, was the disciplinarian and is very well respected to this day for his efforts. In addition to Coaches Antimarino, Betts and Klipa, the 1972 staff included: Coach Moody, Coach Matarazzo, Coach Quarzo and Coach Hanley. Football alumni have nothing but the utmost respect for each and every one of these coaches. These are the men who taught the intangibles of Gateway football and built the dynasty that continued for years. Not to be forgotten are Coach Statnick and Coach Slack whose Jr High programs produced athletes ready for the “Big Show”.
From the 1972 team, Coach Antimarino and Coach Betts are individual members of the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame. Of course Coach Hanley is being inducted here this evening. As of this date, Mark O’Toole is the only player to be inducted, however, if you follow the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame you will find that many of the athletes from the 1972 team will have their day.
As discussed before, the 1972 team was a mix of seniors and juniors. It was truly a team effort. In addition to senior Co-Captain Mark O’Toole, the offense was lead by senior Co-Captain Ken Karish and Senior Gregg Nemec along with juniors Tom Toman, Kris DeJeet and Tom Kopaczynski. The defense was lead by senior Co-Captain Alan Baltrus, seniors Don Schuetz, Gerry Buban, Gary Mignogna and Mike Madonna along with juniors Bob Devine, Mike Butler and Brad Plowman.
On Saturday, November 25, 1972 the Gateway Gators defeated the Jeannette Jayhawks 20-0 in the WPIAL Class AA Championship Football game and posted a record of 11 Wins, 0 Losses with 7 Shut Outs and a number one ranking in the State of Pennsylvania. Nearly 29 years have passed since that glorious Saturday afternoon at Pitt Stadium. To this day a special bond exists between the coaches and players. Most players are now in their mid-40’s and realize what was actually accomplished so many years ago. In the 42 year history of Gateway Football there have been only three undefeated and untied Championship Teams (1969-1972-1986) and the 1972 coaches and teammates humbly accept their place in Gateway History and thank the 1969 team for starting the Tradition.
RESPECT – ATTITUDE – TOGETHERNESS – TRADITION
This is what Gateway Football is all about.
Below is a recap of the eleven wins during the 1972 season. Note the 7 Shut Outs. Seneca Valley and North Hills were the only close games.
1972 Gateway Football Record 11 Wins 0 Losses
Gateway 14 Seneca Valley 12
Gateway 41 Steel Valley 0
Gateway 29 East Allegheny 0
Gateway 27 Fox Chapel 0
Gateway 43 Churchill 0
Gateway 24 Sto-Rox 13
Gateway 17 North Allegheny 0
Gateway 20 North Hills 18
Gateway 15 Shaler 0
Gateway 22 Kiski 13 Playoff At Three Rivers
Gateway 20 Jeannette 0 Championship At Pitt
1972 Co-Captains Alan Baltrus, Ken Karish, Mark O’Toole