What do you call it when something that is never even supposed to happen once happens twice?

The language experts at Merriam-Webster might need to come up with something new in the near future, because this would be more than just a mere coincidence. Calling it a miracle wouldn’t do it justice, because it feels almost inevitable. What this Aliquippa football team is doing on its way to a 15th consecutive WPIAL championship appearance is beyond unfathomable — and yet, nobody seems the least bit surprised that it’s happening.

Perhaps there’s only one word that can be used to properly describe it — destiny.

You can feel it in the air when you’re there. The energy emanating from the Quips’ sideline and pulsating through the crowd, always jam-packed with the most ardent supporters you’ll find of any high school football team in Western Pa. Aliquippa football has always had this unmistakable aura, but it’s more powerful than ever this year as the undefeated Quips seek to repeat as WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A champions — all while competing as a Class 1A-sized school based on enrollment.

That aura reached an all-time high during and after Friday night’s 42-7 mauling of the mighty McKeesport Tigers, led by 1,000-yard rushers Jahmil Perryman and Bobbie Boyd. McKeesport gave Aliquippa its toughest test of last year’s playoffs in a 27-21 double-overtime thriller, and many thought the Tigers had an even better team this year. The Quips, of course, returned 17 starters from last year’s team that finished 13-1 and won WPIAL and state titles. It was arguably the most anticipated game of the season so far, and Aliquippa seized the moment to deliver a massive statement in arguably the most impressive performance by any WPIAL team all year.

“We wanted this game back. I know they wanted it back, and we wanted it back, too,” said senior receiver-defensive back D.J. Walker. “Just to show that last year, everybody saying it could have been this, could have been that — can’t say that this year.”

The Quips have now won 23 games in a row going into the WPIAL Class 4A title game Friday at 8 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium, and No. 24 might be the toughest one yet. They’ll have to beat Central Valley for the second time in four weeks, and the Warriors will surely have revenge on their minds. They had a 24-14 lead in the regular-season finale on Oct. 28 before Aliquippa stormed back to win, 35-24. That snapped a 36-game winning streak for Central Valley that ranked as the fifth longest in WPIAL history.

The Warriors won the past three WPIAL Class 3A titles and back-to-back PIAA Class 3A titles before being forced up to Class 4A this year by the PIAA’s competition formula. They also defeated the Quips four times in a row from 2018-21, including an unforgettable overtime win in the 2019 WPIAL Class 3A title game. They’re no doubt a dynasty in their own right, and they looked ultra impressive in a 21-0 semifinal win vs. Thomas Jefferson. But after watching Aliquippa dismantle a great McKeesport team in one-sided fashion on Friday, it feels like the Quips will be a heavy favorite to add on to their WPIAL record with title No. 19.

It all starts up front with the “Trench Dawgs,” and that was never more evident than in Friday’s beatdown vs. the Tigers. Senior linemen Naquan Crowder, Jason McBride and Neco Eberhardt anchor Aliquippa’s dominant defensive line, and the game-wrecking trio put their talents on full display while stuffing McKeesport’s vaunted rushing attack. But that’s not all — the 6-3, 287-pound McBride started the scoring by tipping a pass to himself for an interception that he returned for a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Not to be outdone, the 6-4, 335-pound Crowder closed the show with an 88-yard scoop-and-score in the fourth quarter that will never be forgotten by anybody who was lucky enough to witness it.

“As he was running, I was just thinking about what I’m going to have to deal with tomorrow,” said Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield. “He’s going to be talking about himself. … I’m going to have to deal with that for a week.”

Crowder received the football equivalent of a police escort from his teammates on his way to the end zone, with all 10 players surrounding him and blocking off any Tigers players who tried to chase him down. The big man showed off surprising wheels on the play — although the wheels nearly fell off toward the end as he collapsed into the end zone, too exhausted to celebrate.

“When I got to the 25, I was like, “Oh snap, my gas tank is on ‘E.’ It’s about to be over,” Crowder said with a laugh. “And then I looked back and saw my guys behind me and I was like, ‘I’ve got to score.’ I put $5 extra in my tank, so I was like, ‘Let me run it in.’ “

On the other side of the ball, the “Trench Dawgs” were hard at work plowing open massive holes for star sophomore Tiqwai “Tikey” Hayes, who rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns in another vintage big-game performance. Hayes is now up to 1,670 yards rushing on the season with 28 TDs. Junior quarterback Quentin “Cheese” Goode did another masterful job of engineering the offense and taking care of the ball, and he showed off his arm talent with a 39-yard strike to Walker to give the Quips a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.

“We wanted to not only prove who the more physical team was — we wanted to make a statement,” Walker said. “Our coaches just tell us to play fast and violent every Friday. That’s what we did, and it showed.”

No matter where you look up and down the Quips’ roster, you’ll find nothing but size, speed, talent and tenacity. But above all else, every player who dons the red and black plays with an immeasurable amount of passion and pride for the town they represent. It’s the Aliquippa way, and it’s more prevalent now than ever.

Still, the job is not finished yet, and the Quips would no doubt love to complete their first perfect season under Warfield, who won two WPIAL and state titles in his first four years as coach. Both of those championship seasons came with one loss each — and both came against Central Valley. Maybe it’s fitting, then, that they’ll have to go through the Warriors not once, but twice, in their quest to repeat their historic feat by winning back-to-back Class 4A titles as a Class 1A-sized school.

“I try to make sure the kids understand that you can’t take this for granted,” Warfield said. “These seniors have only one more week guaranteed. All I want them to do is play for each other.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.