Aliquippa played like a team possessed Friday.
It was Quips’ ability to possess the football that propelled them to a second consecutive WPIAL title.
The most anticipated game of Friday’s championships turned out to be a clunker. In the first-ever WPIAL championship matchup of defending state champs, No. 1 Aliquippa ran to a convincing 34-7 win against No. 2 Central Valley in the Class 4A final at Acriscure Stadium.
Tiqwai Hayes rushed for 112 yards and scored three touchdowns for Aliquippa (12-0), which appeared in the final for the 15th consecutive season and won its record 19th title. The Quips won WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A titles last season, feats that Central Valley (11-2) achieved in Class 3A before moving to Class 4A this season. The Warriors were a three-time defending WPIAL champion and two-time defending PIAA champion.
“We’re happy, because sharing a zip code with a team, that’s an automatic rivalry,” Hayes said of the schools located just six miles apart. “This year, we get the bragging rights. The whole 15001.”
When Aliquippa put an end to Central Valley’s 36-game win streak with a 35-24 win on Oct. 28, the Quips stormed back after trailing by a touchdown at that half. In the rematch, no comeback was needed. Statistics don’t always paint an accurate picture of a game, but in this case, those stats spoke volumes in a contest that saw Aliquippa extend its win streak to 24 games.
Among the more eye-popping numbers:
* Aliquippa held a mammoth edge in time of possession, holding the ball for 34 minutes, 19 seconds compared to Central Valley’s 13:41. The difference was even larger in the first half when the Quips held a 18:31-5:28 advantage.
* Central Valley had just seven first downs, this from a team that was averaging a Class 4A-best 42.3 points per game. The Warriors had just one first down in the opening half. Aliquippa finished with 23.
* Aliquippa outgained Central Valley, 366-128, including 249-1 on the ground. Central Valley managed only that one yard on 16 rushing attempts.
Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said earlier in the week the team that won in the trenches likely would win the game. Warfield couldn’t have been any more spot on, with big guys such as Naquan Crowder (6 feet 4, 341 pounds), Jason McBride (6-3, 298) and Neco Eberhardt (6-3, 286) creating lanes for running backs and stifling Central Valley defensively. Afterward, Warfield spoke glowingly of a group of linemen known as the “Trench Dawgs.”
“It’s been coming together,” Warfield said of the line play. “I’ve seen it ever since the first Central Valley game in the second half where these guys didn’t blink at halftime.”
Hayes scored on three short touchdown runs, the first coming via a 2-yard plunge with 2:47 left in the opening quarter that gave the Quips a 7-0 lead. The 16-play, 86-yard drive, Aliquippa’s first of the game, chewed up 8:15 and foreshadowed what was to come.
“It’s just about bringing that physicality to the field and just letting our running backs do what they do,” McBride said.
Hayes, a sophomore who rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s championship game win against Belle Vernon, scored his second touchdown Friday when he leaped over the top from the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal. The touchdown came on the final play of the first half and served as a big punch in the gut for Central Valley, which nearly escaped being down just one score heading into the break.
“It just seemed like we couldn’t get out of our own way at times,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “ Without looking at the film, I know that we didn’t do a good job of handling their offensive and defensive lines early on. And when that starts to happen, that’s kind of a snowball effect a little bit. That thing starts to run downhill. We’ve been on the other end of that, and unfortunately this end is not a pretty sight.”
Hayes added a 3-yard touchdown run with 5:04 to go in the third quarter to increase Aliquippa’s lead to 21-0. The play capped a 14-play, 84-yard drive on what was the first possession of the second half for either team. Hayes finished with 112 yards on 26 carries and now has 1,781 yards on the season.
Fellow sophomore John Tracy added 108 yards on 22 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:21 left in the game. The Quips then surprisingly converted an onside kick despite being up big late. Three plays later, Quentin Goode connected with Jayace Williams for a 34-yard touchdown with 2:49 left.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Lyons said.
Central Valley threatened to score late in the third quarter. Following a Goode fumble, Central Valley drove to Aliquippa’s 12-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The Warriors then finally broke through with 1:21 left in the game when Antwon Johnson found Brady Hudson for a 21-yard touchdown.
Lyons said he couldn’t remember being part of a game where the opposing team dominated so much on the lines.
“In the 30-plus years of doing this, I’ve never been on this end,” he said. “Now I know what our opponents have felt like all those years. If they held the ball for 35 minutes, it seemed like 70 minutes.”
Central Valley standout running back Bret FitzSimmons was limited to just 9 yards on 10 carries. It marked only the second time this season that FitzSimmons fell short of 100 yards. The first came in the teams’ initial meeting when he ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns. FitzSimmons entered the game with 1,723 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season.
While Central Valley won’t be participating in the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2019, Aliquippa begins defense of its state title when it plays District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic (8-5) in next weekend’s semifinals. Allentown Central Catholic thumped Meadville, 50-7, in Friday’s quarterfinals. Aliquippa has won four PIAA championships in its history, but never back to back.
“It’s unreal,” said McBride. “Two more games and we can be the best ever.”