After losing the season opener to Aliquippa 44-13, Beaver Falls Coach Ryan Matsook said every game was important throughout the rest of the season.
Obviously, his team believed in that sentiment. The Tigers have not lost since with the latest win being a 35-22 victory over that same Aliquippa team, extending their winning streak to 11 games in the WPIAL Class 3A title game at Heinz Field.
The Tigers grabbed a lead and had to hold on tight, withstanding a furious Aliquippa rally late in the fourth quarter.
The championship is the first for Beaver Falls (11-1) since 1984, when the Tigers beat Riverside 14-13 in the class AA title tilt. It also marked the first victory for Beaver Falls at Heinz Field, losing in their three previous games at the home of the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers.
Beaver Falls did establish command early in the contest, taking advantage of three Aliquippa turnovers in the first quarter.
The first miscue occurred when Antwan Brooks muffed a Beaver Falls punt, which was recovered by Thomas Jones at the 50.
On the very next play, Austin French found a wide open Derrell Carter for a 50-yard touchdown to put Beaver Falls up 7-0 after the Cody Long extra point.
The turnover bug bit Aliquippa again just two plays after the Quips had recovered a Beaver Falls fumble.
An electrifying 51-yard run by Malik Shepherd set the Tigers up at the Aliquippa 22. The drive culminated with Shepherd at the quarterback position. The junior tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Amen Cottrill.
Shepherd – who did not play when the teams met Sept. 2 – amassed 78 yards on 14 carries. Carter actually led the Tigers in rushing with 140 yards on 14 carries.
The two scores gave Beaver Falls a 14-0 lead, which it took to the locker room at half time.
Aliquippa (10-3) finally got on the score board early in the third quarter. Avante McKenzie broke five tackles along the way to a 31-yard scoring scamper at the 9:20 mark of the third quarter. An attempt for two came up empty, leaving the score at 14-6.
McKenzie paced the Aliquippa ground game with 131 yards on 17 carries.
Beaver Falls answered the score with a 3-yard run by Torian Leak at 1:06 of the third quarter to push the lead to 21-6.
That set the stage for a wild fourth quarter.
Leak’s second TD run of the game – a 7-yard jaunt – put Beaver Falls up 28-6 with just 3:36 left in the quarter.
Aliquippa put two quick touchdowns (each followed by a successful two-point conversion) on the board to put the lead to 28-22.
The first came on a 24-yard pass from Kwantell Raines to Deveon Crute with 2:26 to play.
A well-executed onside kick gave the Quips the ball back at the Beaver Falls 33. A 7-yard run by Tyriq Jones with 1:35 to play closed the margin.
The Quips tried another extra point, but on this occasion Beaver Falls recovered.
Carter’s 49-yard touchdown run rounded out the scoring for the Tigers.
Jacarri Cleckley shined on defense for the Tigers, with 10 solo tackles (two assists), two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Beaver Falls advances to the PIAA playoffs, where it has a bye in the quarterfinal round.
Beaver Falls 14 0 7 14 35
Aliquippa 0 0 6 16 22
By Quarter Scoring:
7:19 BF – Derrell Carter 50-yard pass from Austin French (Cody Long kick).
2:01 BF – Amen Cottrill 4-yard pass from Malik Shepherd (Long kick).
9:20 A – Avante McKenzie 31-yard run (pass failed).
1:06 BF – Torian Leak 3-yard run (Long kick).
3:36 BF – Leak 7-yard run (Long kick).
2:26 A – Deoveon Crute 24-yard pass from Kwantell Raines (Tyriq Jones run).
1:34 A – Jones 7-yard run (Jones run).
1:19 BF – Carter 49-run (Long kick).