PITTSBURGH — The Class-3A WPIAL football championship game came down to the final play in overtime between two teams that have a lot of pride within their programs.
“We answered the bell and kept standing,” Central Valley head coach Mark Lyons said about the ending of a thrilling 13-12 win at Heinz Field on Saturday over Aliquippa. “It’s ironic and funny — we had a FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meeting, and the guy who leads our talks gave us a speech and left us with ‘keep standing.’ I mean, how ironic is that. … That we were still standing in the overtime.”
“In the locker room (after the game), I checked my texts, and he said ‘I told you brother, keep standing,” Lyons said.
On the first play of overtime, Central Valley quarterback Ameer Dudley handed the ball off to senior wide receiver Mike Barbuto on a jet sweep to the right side of the field. Barbuto evaded a Quip defender and then was met at the 3-yard line by nearly every single player on the field. But the Warriors kept fighting — and standing, and eventually picking up Barbuto and carrying him into the end zone.
“We score a touchdown with 11 guys practically picking Mike (Barbuto) up and carrying him in,” Lyons said. “That’s just kind of what our football team has been this year. They’re unselfish, and they’re happy when their teammate scores.”
The difference in the 13-12 Central Valley win was the Warriors made an extra point attempt from kicker Ethan Ott, and Aliquippa failed a two-point conversion attempt following their overtime touchdown.
“We had a pretty good idea that they would go for two,” Mark Lyons said. “If you (looked out on the field), nobody’s heads were down. (My team) was anxious to let the whistle blow. They are very competitive and always want to play the next play.”
Central Valley junior Stephon Hall and Barbuto came together to finish off the last tackle on the Quips two-point conversion attempt, which happened simultaneously with the final blow of the whistle.
The Warriors were champions. They jumped and hugged and gave Lyons a Gatorade shower. It was a victory that ultimately gave their school district and Lyons their third WPIAL title in just nine years of the school’s existence.
But it was never easy on Saturday for the Warriors.
“Tonight we took a couple of body blows in the first half,” Lyons said. “We bent and bent — but we never really broke.”
Central Valley didn’t get on the scoreboard until there were just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But that was OK because they held the Quips to only six points up to that point.
“Our guys kept fighting, and we made the plays when we had to,” Lyons said.
For a team that has beaten Aliquippa three straight meetings, that takes an uncanny sense of confidence, and the Central Valley players and coaches have just that.
“I feel like some teams are scared of (Aliquippa),” Warriors running back Jaylen Guy said. “We just don’t care. We just play the game.”
It’s even more special when winning a game of this magnitude against a team with the tradition and history of Aliquippa.
“When this all settles, in hopefully another three weeks, four weeks, we will be able to reflect on this,” Lyons said. “Beating Aliquippa twice in the same year, that’s a great feat. I don’t know too many teams that can say that.”
Lyons and his team will now try for the next championship goal at hand. The Warriors will get a week off before beginning their PIAA playoff push.
“Our guys are going to be a focused group (in the coming weeks, while preparing for our next opponent),” Lyons said.