After some shakeups in other brackets, Class 3A was chalk for the top two teams.
The No. 1 Aliquippa Quips and No. 2 Derry Area Trojans both carry 11-1 records into the championship, and that is how Derry coach Tim Sweeney is looking at it.
Forget the fact that Aliquippa is making its 11th straight appearance in a WPIAL Finals game and forget the fact that in 2013 Derry’s record was 0-10; Saturday’s game will feature the best Class 3A has to offer.
“Unless the guys that were playing 10 years ago show up, they’re (Aliquippa) another team,” said Sweeney.
Derry has quietly proven itself all season as having probably the best chance to knock off the Quips as the Trojans have won six straight games including a 46-0 win over Central Valley in the first round.
While the Trojans offense may not be as deep as Aliquippa, Justin Flack has shown to be one of the best running backs in the conference.
Flack is fourth in the conference with 1,240 yards and leads Class 3A with 35 touchdowns. Flack scored eight touchdowns earlier this season in a win over Yough (six rushing, a kick return and an interception return).
Aliquippa on the other hand has been the favorite all season and has played like it under first-year coach Mike Warfield.
The Quips have scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season (a 14-8 loss to Central Valley to close the season) and have three of the best offensive weapons in the WPIAL.
In Class 3A Aliquippa has the leading passer (Eli Kosanovich – 2,471 yards and 31 touchdowns), the leading receiver (Will Gipson 46 receptions, 1,329 yards) and the third leading rusher (Avante McKenzie – 1,396 yards).
If there is any one area where the Trojans may have an advantage is if Saturday’s game remains close.
Derry is 2-1 in games decided by seven points or less while Aliquippa is 0-1.
“Our team doesn’t hit the panic button, and that’s because of our senior leaders here,” said Sweeney. “These guys have been in some big games, not just this year, but going back to our 2016 season. That experience pays dividends for you.”
Sweeney is in his fifth season as the Derry coach, taking over after the team’s 0-10 season and has made improvement every year since.
Derry won four games in 2014, five in 2015, and have won three-straight section championships including in 2018.
“We’re just proud of the kids. They’ve embraced the coaching demands, and understanding the expectations and personal sacrifices required.
“Success isn’t necessarily measured in wins and losses, it’s in the body of work and we need to make sure they’re good students in the classroom, they’re community-minded and thankful that we’re just a small part of a great community”
Sweeney said the crowds have been good all season and had strong followings to away games, and expects the same at Heinz Field.
The big crowds are great, but it’s the youth leagues that show Sweeney and the coaching staff the program is heading in the right direction.
“The midget football players, when they go on the playground and play games against each other, they’re not emulating James Conner or Ben Roethlisberger or Saquon Barkley, they’re emulating Dom DeLuca and Justin Flack and Colton Nemcheck. That’s what the kids in Derry are doing, and that’s nice to see.”