HERSHEY, Pa. — As Aliquippa head coach Mike Warfield has said, there aren’t many – if any – high school teams playing up three divisions in the United States. And there certainly aren’t any that are state champions.
Well, until now that is.
There doesn’t seem to be a stage that’s too big for Aliquippa. The Quips play up, way up, and it doesn’t matter because the Quips keep winning. If it’s Aliquippa against everyone, everyone is going to need a few more people. And now Aliquippa is the PIAA Class-4A state champion, coming off a 34-20 win over Bishop McDevitt Thursday night at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
With the one-two punch of Tiqwai Hayes and Jon Tracy combining for over 200 yards, and timely plays from Quentin Goode, Aliquippa was able to overcome a very slow start that turned into a battle of excellent defenses.
With 2:56 left in the game, the Quips got the ball back with a chance to salt the game away, holding a seven point lead. A couple of Tiqwai Hayes runs set up a fourth-and-one from the 44-yard line. Warfield put his trust in his team, in Hayes, and the freshman barrelled across the line to convert the first down.
That provided the Quips with the victory, but it wasn’t always so easy going for the Quips.
A nightmare scenario for Aliquippa to open the state title game perhaps proved to be the wake-up call that the Quips needed, but it looked bleak early on. Bishop McDevitt still made the Quips pay for some soft defense and an early special teams gaffe.
Bishop McDevitt received the opening kickoff and after a quick first down stuff, McD quarterback Stone Saunders stood tall in the pocket and fired a quick strike to a streaking Mario Easterly, who raced untouched through the Quips’ defense for a 59-yard opening score.
A high, arching kickoff from Bishop McDevitt, a quasi-onside kick of sorts, wasn’t jumped on by Aliquippa, and it set McD up inside the Quips’ 30-yard line. McD’s Marquese Williams exploded through a gap in the line and dashed into the end zone to extend the lead to 13 points.
With a quick three and out on Aliquippa’s first drive, the momentum in the game pushed a very, very large Bishop McDevitt crowd to a frenzy. The Quips needed a defensive stop, and they got one.
After Bishop McDevitt seemingly converted a long second down pass attempt for a first down, the ball was stripped and forced McDevitt into a third and long situation. Quips’ Neco Eberhardt blew the play up and planted Saunders into the turf. A short punt set up Aliquippa inside McDevitt territory.
Freshman sensation Tiqwai Hayes took the first snap of the drive, barrelled through the defensive line and lumbered 42 yards for a huge touchdown. And on the ensuing Bishop McDevitt drive, an underthrown pass from Saunders was picked off by the Quips’ Cameron Lindsey and returned 34 yads for the go-ahead touchdown.
For a team that fell behind by two touchdowns before the three minute mark, the Quips’ 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter embodied an attacking, never-over mentality for Aliquippa all season long.
Like in the first quarter, however, Bishop McDevitt struck quickly. It may not have been inside the opening minute, but just a second over wasn’t bad. Aliquippa brought the house on a McD third-and-nine, but Saunders was able to fire the ball into Kamil Foster’s arms on a quick slant, and he did the rest in outracing the Quips’ defense for a 55-yard touchdown to retake the lead.
A steady dose of Hayes and Jon Tracy drove Aliquippa the length of the field on the answering drive, but it was quarterback Quentin Goode’s arm that picked up a key fourth down conversion to Brandon Banks inside the red zone. And Tracy pounded the ball into the end zone from two yards out to tie the game back up at 20.
It was a battle of two contrasting offenses through the first 24 minutes of the contest. Saunders’ 146 yards through the air accounted for a majority of Bishop McDevitt’s yards while Hayes and Tracy’s 143 yards on the ground fueled Aliquippa. An onside kick leading to a touchdown and a pick-six proved to be the difference makers.
Aliquippa couldn’t build any momentum coming out of the half, but Bishop McDevitt couldn’t either. However, the Quips’ second drive of the quarter… perfection. The Quips drove 80 yards with a 17 play drive that burned up just under nine minutes of the clock.
Along with the heavy grind of Hayes and Tracy, Goode converted huge passes to Tajier Thornton and Cyair Clark to move the chains — which included Clark’s remarkable 23-yard catch on fourth down over two Bishop McDevitt defenders. With a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, Hayes plowed into the end zone for his second of the night.
And Hayes wasn’t happy with just two touchdowns either. After the Quips forced a punt on third and long on the ensuing Bishop McDevitt drive, Goode and Clark connected with another key conversion — a 40-yard gain on third-and-11 — and Hayes smashed a pitch into the end zone from eight yards out to make it a 34-20 game.
And with a 34-7 run since Bishop McDevitt’s early 13-0 lead, the Quips’ defense was forced into defending a short field after a long kickoff return, but the unit clamped down inside the red zone. However, the McDevitt defense also stood tall.
Aliquippa flipped the field with a nearly 60-yard boot down inside Bishop McDevitt’s territory, but a block in the back call forced a re-kick, and started McDevitt inside Quips’ territory instead. With a second-and-nine on the Quips’ 19, Saunders dumped a ball off to Williams, who took off down the sideline for a big touchdown to pull McDevitt within a score. And the rest was history.
The football season has come to an end for Aliquippa, and while a forced move to Class-5A may occur over the offseason, the Quips can hold their heads high as the state champions through it all.