ALIQUIPPA, Pa. – Several stories have dominated the local high football scene throughout the season’s first month, but no story has drawn more attention than Aliquippa’s dominating defense.
The numbers are staggering to read and demoralizing for opposing offenses. The Quips have yet to surrender an offensive touchdown through six games. Beaver’s offense is the only unit so far to put up any points against the Quips, a field goal late in the fourth quarter trailing by 23 points. That was three weeks ago—a span of 147 minutes. That stat reads more like a goalkeeper’s shutout streak in soccer, not football.
“We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to statistics to tell you the truth,” head coach Mike Zmijanac said. “The last thing I say before we got out on the field each week is, ‘Play defense and take care of the ball.’ They’ve been doing a good job of that.”
Aliquippa will face a new test Friday when Class 1A power Clairton visits the Pit in arguably the region’s biggest game of the week. It’s also homecoming so expect the gameday atmosphere to be kicked up a notch or two.
The Bears enter the matchup in unfamiliar territory. Clairton was upset by Imani Christian, 18-6, last week and has not lost consecutive regular season games since 2005. Clairton dismantled the Quips a year ago, 52-16, and Aliquippa will be motivated to return the favor.
“I anticipate a great game,” Zmijanac said. “They’re always a great program—well coached, organized team and they have great players. It should be a good game. It’s just an exhibition game; keep that in mind. Of course, our goal is to win a championship, not exhibition games.”
Clairton (4-1) averages 32 points a game and figures to be the most talented team the Aliquippa defense has faced to date.
The Quips are surrendering just 61 yards of total offense per contest, and opponents have recorded just 29 total first downs. In a 52-0 rout of South Park last week, Aliquippa held the Eagles without a first down.
The secondary, headlined by senior Kwantel Raines and junior Marlin Devonshire, receives a lot of press, but it’s the Quips front seven that is suffocating opponents.
Senior Dajour Fisher (46 tackles), junior Solvauhn Moreland (42 tackles), and senior Xiyrail Barnat (36 tackles) comprise a menacing defensive line, and senior linebacker Tariq Jones leads all players with 60 total tackles. This group has limited opposing rushing attacks to a paltry 29 yards a game.
Aliquippa has forced 16 turnovers on the season and is +7 in turnover margin. The Quips have returned a pair of those turnovers for touchdowns, and Devonshire had an 81-yard punt return against Freeport, demonstrating the team’s ability to score in all three phases of the game. Zmijanac credits the defensive performance to several factors, including coordinator Dan “Peep” Short’s preparation.
“The kids are doing what they’re taught, and they’re pretty talented, so it’s a combination of things,” Zmijanac said.
While the defense slowly chokes the life out of its opponents, the Quips rushing attack delivers the final knockout punch. Aliquippa runs for nearly 300 yards a game and more than six yards per carry. Junior Avante McKenzie is among the area’s top rushers, averaging 130 yards a game. He’s one of eight different players to score a rushing touchdown.
The emergence of junior quarterback Eli Kosanovich, who’s thrown for 499 yards and eight touchdowns, makes it difficult for opposing teams to focusing solely on slowing the Quips’ running game.
“We’re not nearly as explosive as we’ve been in the past,” Zmijanac said. “We’re a bit of a throwback. We don’t throw the ball 35 times a game because that’s not what we do. We run the ball, we throw the ball when we want. That’s the idea.”
Friday’s matchup with Clairton is the start of a tough two-week stretch for the Quips. Next week, Aliquippa travels to currently undefeated Quaker Valley in what figures to be the pseudo Beaver Valley Conference championship game.
“We’re playing at a really high level, and we’re glad to be where we are so far,” Zmijanac said. “But so far is so far.”