Aliquippa’s Avante McKenzie rushed for a pair of first half touchdowns, and the Quips hung on Friday night to remain unbeaten, defeating Quaker Valley, 22-7.
It was a matchup of the top two teams in Class 3A in front of a packed house but the end result was all too familiar for WPIAL fans. Quaker Valley entered the contest unbeaten and considered the best threat to finally crack the Aliquippa defense.
The Quips did surrender their first offensive touchdown of the season but also forced three second half interceptions, lifting an offense that struggled to generate much momentum after the break. After totaling 127 yards in the opening half, the Quips managed just 92 in the second half, with most of it coming on one play.
Clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, William Gipson connected with Marlin Devonshire for a 42-yard touchdown strike on third and long, stretching the Aliquippa advantage to 22-7. Gipson had replaced starter Eli Kosanovich late in the third quarter.
“He’s a little bit more athletic,” head coach Mike Zmijanac said of Gipson. “He made a great play, made a big play that ended the game, essentially. He’s a talented kid. He’s our backup quarterback and he gave us a jumpstart.”
The Quakers went three-and-out on their next possession, and Devonshire sealed the win, picking off Ricky Guss in Aliquippa territory with less than three minutes remaining.
“We knew if our D line got pressure on him, he’s going to look to throw passes really quick,” Devonshire said of Guss’ second half mistakes. “The receivers couldn’t get in their routes if we got our hands on them, so it was a big part of our game plan.”
A 23-yard reception by Isaiah McNair on the first play of the second half seemed to jumpstart the Quaker Valley offense. Four plays later, McNair hauled in a 28-yard over-the-shoulder catch to cut the deficit in half, 14-7.
Mistakes would plague the Quaker offense in the third quarter, though, as Aliquippa’s Larry Walker picked off a pair of Guss passes. The Quakers also had a drive stall on the Quips 17-yard line, eventually turning the ball over on downs.
“It was very important getting him [Guss] out of his element,” Walker said of the Quips’ pressure up front. “Getting him frustrated makes the secondary’s job easier. The front seven played their butts off tonight, and really that’s how I got my two interceptions.”
Avante McKenzie ripped off a 47-yard run on the Quips’ second possession of the game and scored on the next play, a three-yard plunge, to open the scoring. He added the two-point conversion to make it 8-0. McKenzie stretched the lead to 14-0 two possessions later with a six-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
The Quips limited Guss to 11-31 passing for 133 yards and 57 yards rushing on 17 attempts. The Quakers were 0-4 on fourth down and had six drives end in Aliquippa territory without producing points.
McKenzie totaled 95 yards on the ground, and Devonshire hauled in four passes for 58 yards, none bigger than his long grab in the fourth quarter.
With the victory, Aliquippa is in position to win the Beaver Valley Conference championship and secure the top seed in the WPIAL playoffs. The Quips can move one step closer to that goal next week against Central Valley, Zmijanac’s only focus going forward.
“The next focus is to be 9-0,” Zmijanac said. “I’m one of those guys, I look ahead on Sunday morning when I read the paper but that’s it. We play Central Valley next week, so that’s my only focus.”
The Quakers, who were looking to go 8-0 for the first time since 1967, will play at Seton LaSalle next week. Quaker Valley has started 7-0 three times since that season but has fallen each time in its eighth game.