ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — The Beaver Falls Tigers entered The Pit with swagger in the debut of head coach Nick Nardone, running through a banner that read, “Remember Heinz?” as they took the field. Aliquippa responded by giving them a game they’d just as soon forget.
The Quips (1-0, 2-0) used more stifling defense and another great performance by junior running back Avante McKenzie to rout Beaver Falls 36-0 at Carl Aschman Stadium in a Week 1 contest, the 85th all-time meeting between the Class 3A Beaver Valley Conference rivals.
It took McKenzie four trips to the end zone, and ultimately, 160 yards on 13 carries, to turn the much-anticipated rematch between the reigning PIAA champions and the team it upended for last year’s district crown into WPIAL Insider’s best early-season candidate for a “Life comes at you fast” meme.
The Aliquippa offense came at Beaver Falls (0-1, 0-1) especially fast in the second quarter, breaking the game open in one of the more unusual series of events in recent Beaver County football memory.
With the Quips already ahead 12-0, senior fullback Tariq Jones scored on a rugged 13-yard run, then appeared to extend the lead with a two-point conversion–only to see those two points suddenly come off the board right before the ensuing kickoff. A miscommunication over the ruling on the field, that Jones had come up short, was finally clarified, leaving the score at 18-0. Aliquippa, however, extended its lead anyway after attempting and recovering consecutive surprise onside kicks.
After Gevod Tyson recovered the first, a 42-yard pass from Eli Kosanovich, who finished 7-of-9 for 160 yards of his own, to Deoveon Crute set up a 7-yard touchdown run by McKenzie. Following the second recovery, Kosanovich hooked up with fellow junior William Gipson for a 37-yard score.
“I want to thank my line. We go as far as the line goes,” said McKenzie, who was quick to credit the play of an offensive front that saw guys like senior Dajour Fisher and junior Solvaughn Moreland continue to do fine work.
“Obviously they’re doing what they’re supposed to, if the running backs are happy,” head coach Mike Zmijanac said with a smile.
Beaver Falls, which trailed 30-0 at halftime, delayed the start of the running clock by holding Aliquippa 0-for-6 on two-point attempts, but the Quips enacted the mercy rule with nine-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter on a sensational play by McKenzie. Running off the right side, he found a seam and shook off a mighty upper-body tackle by a defender in the open field en route to a 58-yard touchdown.
He also scored on runs of three and two yards in the first quarter.
The offense didn’t come as easily for the largely new-look Tigers, who called upon junior Dayln Brickner and senior Adam Brady to share time at quarterback. Unofficially, Brady, more of a pocket passer this particular Friday, and Brickner, more of a threat with his legs, were held to under 50 net yards combined.
“We played very physical, which has become pretty much our style,” Zmijanac said. “We played well.”
In typical fashion, nothing seemed to deter his team. An epic pick-six by M.J. Devonshire was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty, but then a clean interception by Xavier Harvey set up a 91-yard drive that culminated in Jones’ touchdown.
Now the Quips, after taking down last year’s state champs, are likely to remain this year’s consensus No. 1 as they head to Gypsy Glen Stadium for a critical conference game against Beaver next Friday at 7:30.
Beaver Falls will try to get Nardone his first win back on the friendly (artificial) soil of Reeves Field when it hosts Apollo-Ridge in a 7:00 non-conference game next Friday.
“Their program was gutted, but their kids played hard, and they’ll make a comeback,” Zmijanac said. “It’s Beaver Falls.”