If the 2019 Class 3-A championship game was the world heavyweight championship at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, decided by a late, late knockout punch that left the world wanting more, then Friday night’s non-conference tilt between the two schools separated by a 15 minute drive was the low-key defense held in a nondescript location.
And, the end result was still a true heavyweight bout. Big, bruising young men in the trenches, skill players trading explosive punches and Central Valley managing to, once again, land the late, closing blow on Aliquippa.
“This game is momentum,” Central Valley head coach Mark Lyons said. “This game is about exchanging body blows, answering the bell and coming out for the next one.”
In a game where CV senior quarterback Matt Merritt was forced to exit after only a handful of plays, and Aliquippa sophomore quarterback Quentin Goode showed off his continued progression with an electric performance, it was CV senior running back Landon Alexander who landed the first — and strongest punches.
Alexander, a 6-foot-0, 180-pound runner, racked up 210 yards on the ground against the Quips, scoring twice along the way. CV as a team combined for 233 yards in the contest, so Alexander served as the left hook, the right hook, the uppercut, the jab, and everything in between.
“He’s worked so hard to prepare his body and his endurance,” Lyons said. “We got him to come out to track to improve his endurance, he’s lifted, he’s probably gained 10 pounds of good weight. He’s been really gunned up for this season.”
Coming off a 200 yard, three touchdown performance against Blackhawk the week prior, Alexander has been on a tear for CV this season. With runs of 75 yards for the opening touchdown and 49 yards to set up the clinching touchdown at the five-yard line, Lyons lauded the effort and compete level from his star halfback.
“He’s a motivated young man, which is good,” Lyons said. “You would think he’d be resting on his laurels, but he’s motivated. I think he took this little recruiting thing as a little chip, a little chip on his shoulder. He’s not getting the recruits that he thought he would, but that’s okay, they’ll come now.”
Holding a 14-0 lead at the half, courtesy of Alexander’s two touchdowns (the long, powerful run with countless broken tackles and the uber-athletic one-handed catch on a pitch turned into a summersault over a Quips’ defender at the goal line), maybe some expected the Quips to go down easy. Goode certainly wasn’t going to let that happen.
“He’s impressive,” Aliquippa head coach Mike Warfield said. “He never got down even he made a couple of mistakes, or bad decisions as I call them, that’s a thing that comes with maturity as a quarterback. The more reps you get in live action against a good team, the better you’ll be. As you can see, his second game as a starter, I mean he’s impressive.”
While Goode may have made a few mistakes, notably an interception in the first half on an underthrown pass into strong coverage, he also flashed an electric play-making ability for a player making just his second start at quarterback.
On a 3rd-and-6 in the third quarter, pinned back deep in his own territory, Goode was forced to evade the swarming CV pass rush. With a minefield of defenders surrounding him, he slipped through outstretched fingertips and scrambled toward the sideline to hit a wide open Jamar Jeter for a game-changing 81-yard touchdown.
“I thought their quarterback played a gutsy game,” Lyons said. “He throws the ball on the line; he gave us fits. We were getting in those 2nd-and-4, 2nd-and-5… those are tough downs to live in because you’re in between pass defense and run defense. Once we got him in those obvious pass defenses, I thought that was to our advantage.”
With a one score deficit after the long touchdown, the momentum continued to swing toward the Quips thanks to Goode. With only a few seconds left in the third quarter, staring down a 2nd-and-24 from near midfield, Goode stepped up into the pocket and launched a laser beam to senior wide receiver Tajier Thornton for a 46-yard strike in stride.
A Quips’ touchdown a couple of plays later narrowed the deficit to just two points, and a failed two point conversion reminiscent of the 2019 title fight, led to a 14-12 game early in the fourth quarter. With less than 40 yards of offense in the second half, of course, it was Alexander who threw the last punch. His 49-yard scamper set up the game-icing touchdown and allowed CV to regain the momentum before it was too late
“When you can swing the field position and get down in the red zone in one play, that’s a big momentum boost,” Lyons said. “You could tell our guys had a bounceback in their step, and they may have been coming out of the huddle just a step slow. Now let’s reverse that, when [Aliquippa] breaks that long pass, we go three and out, you saw them getting out of the huddle, all of the sudden, [Aliquippa] looked taller, [Aliquippa] looked faster coming out of the huddle and our guys are dragging.”
A 21-12 final score improved CV to 3-0 on the young season, an early favorite to win another league title, while the Quips fell to 1-1 on the season. With an encouraging effort, especially in the second half of the contest, Warfield and his team don’t look at the loss as anything but.
“We still lost,” Warfield said. “I mean, that’s the view that I think the kids have. But I told them, I’m always telling the kids the truth, wins or losses, I have to always give it to the kids raw and let them know when they make mistakes. I was proud of them the way they fought, they didn’t get down.
“We’re going to learn from it,” Warfield said. “It’s really hard to tell how we actually did until we go back and look at the tape, but from a nake eye, tonight I thought I was impressed with how we fought and the physicality we came out with in the second half.”
No matter the season or the situation, it’s always going to be a fight between Central Valley and Aliquippa. And both schools know it, this isn’t the last fight either.
“We’re down in the Pit, I know half of the stadium was probably shut down for not being safe, but we’d fill this place anywhere the two of us go,” Lyons said. “It’s just two proud communities. It’s a great high school rivalry.”