Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone is doing everything in his power to ensure Friday’s matchup with Aliquippa is just another game.
The Tigers will play their second-string quarterback, attempt to slow down the WPIAL’s highest scoring offense and even *gasp* punt to MJ Devonshire.
Nardone, a 2007 graduate of Ellwood City, is in his second year after replacing Ryan Matsook who guided the Tigers to a 101-26 record over his 11 seasons including a WPIAL and PIAA championship in 2016.
Beaver Falls stumbled last season going 1-8 (0-6) including a 36-0 loss to Aliquippa.
Nardone said the game and preparation has since slowed down as players have matured and he has tried to shrink the playbook for himself as a play caller.
The Tigers appear to be back on track, entering Friday’s game 4-0 with a chance to do something they haven’t done since 2009: beat Aliquippa in the regular season.
However, the team will have to do so without their starting quarterback.
Senior Noah Vaughn has been diagnosed with an ACL tear, which means senior Dayln Brickner will get his second start of the season against the Quips.
Bricker was 8-11 for 183 yards and two touchdowns while adding another on the ground in the Tigers’ 25-14 win over Quaker Valley last week.
While a different style, Nardone said he feels comfortable with Brickner running the offense.
“He brings a new athleticism to the position,” said Nardone. “Noah was more of a pocket-passer, he was a great game manager, he knew how to line guys up. Dayln is more of an athlete back there, gives us a quarterback-run option. He can do special things with the football. So we’re going to try different ways to keep the football in his hands.”
The Quips have allowed just six points this season, which is tied for second-lowest in the WPIAL this season (tied with Burgettstown; Clariton has yet to allow a point), and the defense is littered with playmakers with college offers.
The biggest name on the defense is senior MJ Devonshire. The three-star cornerback has offers from Pitt, Ohio State, West Virginia and Indiana. He is joined in the defensive backfield by Deoveon Crute (Buffalo, Ohio, Duquesne and a few FCS schools) while the defensive line is anchored by three-star players Solvauhn Moreland (Ball State) and Ahmad Gilbert. Athlete Will Gipson has also committed to Ball State for the Quips.
As good as the Quips defense has been, the offense is what’s been impressive through four weeks.
The Quips are averaging 56 points per game, and the 224 total points leads the WPIAL.
Senior quarterback Eli Kosanovich is the main reason behind the point surge as the traditional run-heavy Quips now have a quarterback leading, arguably, the best receiving group in the WPIAL.
“If you’ve watched their games, they are shot gun, they’re spreading you out, they force you to cover the entire field. But they’ll also run the ball,” said Nardone. “They’re a very talented team all over.”
“Eli has done well. Since I took over the position, he and I have been working,” said Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield. “He and Will have been going back and forth. But Eli has been very receptive. We tell him to just make good decisions.”
Gipson will see some time as quarterback, but is also one of the better receivers on the team. Warfield said at a school the size of Aliquippa, your numbers dictate where players play.
While both sides of the ball have been nearly perfect through four games, the aspect of the Quips’ game that has been garnering the most attention is special teams, specifically punt returns.
Devonshire has returned six punt returns for touchdowns this season. According to the National Federation of State High School Association record book, the record in one season is nine.
Brickner and fellow senior Dante Collins will handle the punting duties for Beaver Falls, and Nardone said the plan does not change based on who is returning the punts.
“He’s an extremely gifted punt returner, but we can’t change our plan based on one player,” said Nardone. “We have to be able to punt the football, get down and cover. We have to prepare our cover teams to go up against some of the best athletes they’ve seen all year.”
Warfield was quick to credit the entire special-teams unit for the Quips for the success, but said he and Devonshire identified special teams as an area they needed to improve on for this season.
“When I first met with the seniors, I pulled him to the side and said special teams plays are actual play,” he said. “You can’t take them for granted. In the Quaker Valley game (last season’s WPIAL Championship game the Quips lost 2-0), they didn’t score, which means they punted seven or eight times. That’s seven or eight times he could have made a difference. It was basically a challenge, and he’s accepted that challenge. He’s doing a wonderful job.”