Aliquippa beats odds, wins PIAA Class 4A championship

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Thursday, December 9, 2021 | 9:49 PM


HERSHEY — Aliquippa has a Class A enrollment, yet the small-school Quips were crowned Thursday night as the best 4A football team in the state.

In a word, their coach called it “unbelievable.”

Freshman running back Tiqwai Hayes, who’s quickly becoming the school’s next superstar, rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns under the lights at Hersheypark Stadium as Aliquippa knocked off yet another bigger school, defeating Bishop McDevitt, 34-27, in the PIAA finals.

“These kids don’t care if they’re in A or 6A,” coach Mike Warfield said. “If you tell us we’re playing Thursday at 7, we’re going to show up.”

No matter how many more kids the other team has.

“That’s just us,” said Hayes, who scored touchdowns on runs on 42, 1 and 8 yards. “At Hersheypark at 7 o’clock? We’re going to be there. At Central Cambria on a Friday night? We’ll be there, trying to do our best.”

The state title was the second in four years and fourth overall for Aliquippa (13-1).

But this was the team’s first in 4A, a classification the Quips joined unwillingly. The team was voluntarily playing up to Class 3A before the PIAA competitive-balance rule forced the Quips up another level.

They’re likely headed to 5A next season despite a senior class Warfield has said has fewer than 40 students.

“These kids should be commended,” Warfield said. “They should be celebrated. I know there’s a lot of talk going on about the classification, but what these kids have done has never been done before.”

Bishop McDevitt (12-2), the District 3 champion, was trying to win its first PIAA title since 1995. The Crusaders led 13-0 and 20-14, but they couldn’t force Aliquippa’s offense off the field in the second half.

“They might be Single-A in numbers,” McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter said, “but that’s not a Single-A team.”

Aliquippa broke a 20-20 halftime tie with a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed nearly 9 minutes in the third and fourth quarters. The drive included a 23-yard pass from sophomore Quentin Goode to senior Cyair Clark on a fourth-and-7, and ended with Hayes diving across the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

In all, the Quips converted three fourth downs.

The last fourth-down jam came with less than 3 minutes left and leading 34-27. Aliquippa gambled again, and Hayes converted a fourth-and-1 at the Quips’ 43. That conversion — which was close enough officials needed to measure — let Aliquippa run out the remaining clock.

“Coach Mike asked: ‘What do you all want to do?’ We said: ‘Go for it,’” said junior Naquan Crowder, the team’s left tackle. “We were going to get it. I knew we were going to get it.”

Warfield was convinced, too.

“My big guys said we’re running it. I lean on them,” Warfield said. “I was back and forth on that call. I said, ‘Can we get this?’ My guys on the left side said to run behind them.”

Hayes carried the ball 32 times, and sophomore Jon Tracy added 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

The Quips leaned on an offensive line that averages 303 pounds to sustain a couple of long possessions. They had touchdown drives of 13 and 17 plays covering 70 and 80 yards.

“What changed the game was they had the ball for most of the third quarter,” Weachter said.

Freshman quarterback Stone Saunders, who already lists offers from Maryland and Michigan, completed 13 of 24 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns for McDevitt. Saunders threw a 59-yarder to Mario Easterly, a 55-yarder to Kamil Foster and an 18-yarder to Marquese Williams. Williams also scored a rushing touchdown.

McDevitt led 13-0 and 20-14 before half.

“We’ve been there before,” said Warfield, whose team rallied back for the second week in a row.

This was a season of adversity for Aliquippa, which saw senior Antonyo “Sunny” Anderson seriously injured in a May shooting. He was on the sideline for games this season but watched from a wheelchair as he continued to recover.

“It’s incredible the ups and downs of this year,” Warfield said, “and what we’ve been through.”

Bishop McDevitt scored twice before the Quips’ offense took the field Thursday. Saunders threw a touchdown on the game’s second play, and then Aliquippa misplayed the following kickoff, giving the ball back to McDevitt.

A 16-yard TD run by Williams gave McDevitt a 13-0 lead.

Aliquippa answered with a one-play touchdown drive as Hayes broke free for a 42-yard run. One minute later, the Quips scored again when Cameron Lindsey returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown. The Quips led 14-13 with about 5 minutes left in the first quarter.

“We had no doubt,” Crowder said. “We went down 13-0 and I still had no doubt. It was a fighting game. When you’re playing in 4A, the game is going to be hard.”

McDevitt led 20-14 on Saunders’ 55-yard pass to Foster early in the second quarter.

The Quips then answered back with a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, and Tracy scored on a 2-yard run. The extra point snap went awry, leaving the teams tied at 20.

After a scoreless third quarter, Hayes found the end zone twice early in the fourth. His runs of 1 and 8 yards gave Aliquippa a 34-20 lead with 9 minutes left.

McDevitt cut the difference to seven points on Saunders’ third touchdown pass near the 3-minute mark, but that was the last time his offense had the ball. The Crusaders thought they’d stopped Aliquippa short on fourth-and-1 at the 44, but the nose of the football reached the first-down mark.

Weachter questioned the spot, still believing the Quips were short, but accepted the results.

“Give them credit. They just made one more play,” he said. “It was a game of inches.”

If Aliquippa makes a return trip to Hershey next season, it could be in the Class 5A final. The school intends to contest another move up, but it’s unknown whether the PIAA would alter its competitive-balance formula.

If not, are the Quips ready for 5A?

“I don’t know,” Crowder said. “But wherever they put us, we’ll be there at 7 o’clock.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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