The matchup Friday night between local rivals, Central Valley and Aliquippa, has become the most sought after ticket for a high school football game in recent years.
Both teams are undefeated and are playing for the WPIAL AAAA Parkway Conference Title. Neither team has lost in over a year, with Central Valley on a 38-game winning streak and Aliquippa on a 20-game winning streak.
The last game between the two last season saw the Warriors defeat the Quips, 14-8. Now that Central Valley moved up from Class AAA to Quad A, the matchup also serves as a true buildup for a likely rematch in the playoffs as well.
The demand for this game is the most that Central Valley Athletic Director Sam Cercone has seen in more than a decade in the role.
Aliquippa, the home team, allotted 1,000 tickets to Central Valley. The tickets first went to participants in the game, meaning players, band and cheerleaders on Wednesday night . The seniors that participated got four tickets and the underclassmen received two tickets.
Central Valley students then had the opportunity to purchase a ticket on Thursday. According to Cercone, their entire allotment sold out around 12:45 p.m.
Cercone started to plan for the game with Aliquippa Athletic Director, Dr. Jennifer Damico. The plan for the allotted tickets Cercone said was similar to one they had during the 2020 season, where they had strict COVID-19 protocols. This made the plan far easier than it might’ve been in prior years.
“It was a lot of planning, a lot of things put in place, but because we already had the plan put in place prior to, it was pretty easy to, and we were able to manage it and navigate it,” Cercone said. “It was a good plan, I do believe we have a good chunk of our fans, people that follow our time, but unfortunately, I don’t know if every single person will be in that stadium come Friday night.”
The home ground of Aliquippa football, Carl A. Aschman Stadium, or famously known as “The Pit,” is currently undergoing renovation this year and isn’t available for play this season. The Quips are playing their home games at nearby Freedom Area High School.
The capacity for Freedom’s football stadium is around 2,500. Cercone stated that if Central Valley hosted the game, they wouldn’t have worried about a sell out, as their home stadium has a capacity of 5,000-6,000 people with standing room. There also wouldn’t have been a problem at “The Pit” as well, as that stadium held around 3,500-5,000 people at full capacity.
Cercone has overseen the merger of the two previous high schools, Center and Monaca into what Central Valley is today in 2010. Central Valley head coach Mark Lyons has led the team to great success and has served as head coach since the school began in 2010, like Cercone.
The two have been close for decades, as Lyons coached Cercone in Mighty Mites football when he was young. After Cercone finished college in 1997, he worked as a permanent sub at Monaca. Lyons, who was head coach of Monaca, hired him as one of his assistant coaches and they’ve remained good friends since.
Cercone shows that while Lyons has won the important football games as head coach, such as the past three games against Aliquippa, he is also important in the players development into successful men beyond high school. Two alumni are playing in the NFL, in New York Giants wide receiver Robert Foster and New York Jets defensive back Jordan Whitehead, and many others played football at many different collegiate levels.
“He has won a lot of football games, but most importantly, he molds young men,” Cercone said. “He molds these kids into young men. As the Athletic Director of the school district and now being his boss, I couldn’t ask for a better guy to lead our program because there’s been a lot of successful guys that have left this program that have been very, very successful.”
For the game tomorrow night, Cercone is excited to see two teams with passionate fan bases face off. He said that they are two well-coached teams and that bragging rights are on the line, making it a great game to watch.
“I tell you what, for a kid that’s participating in the game, they’re not going to find a bigger game,” Cercone said. “I mean, we’re cross-towns, we’re connecting towns. A lot of kids know each other. I think both communities have an outstanding fan base. I mean, when you talk about the old Aliquippa teams, they have a lot, a lot of people that follow the Aliquippa Quips. Being that we’re young, 13 years into Central Valley, we have kind of generated the same fan base. We have a lot of people that aren’t even involved in the game that like to come to our games.”
Kickoff between the two teams is set for 7 p.m. at Freedom Bulldog Stadium.