Aliquippa headed ‘home’ to WPIAL finals, extending championship game streak to 16 years

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Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 12:16 AM


Whether the stadium on the North Shore is called Heinz Field or Acrisure Stadium doesn’t much matter to Aliquippa’s football players, since they have their own nickname for it.

“Home” is what they like to say.

Tikey Hayes called it home. Arison Walker called it home. That’s because for the 16th year in a row, Aliquippa is headed “home” to the WPIAL finals.

“It’s starting to get normal, like any other game,” said Hayes, who rushed for 202 yards and scored twice Friday night as No. 1 Aliquippa celebrated a mercy rule victory over No. 4 Mars, 47-24, in a rainy WPIAL Class 4A semifinal at North Allegheny.

Hayes, after the win, already was envisioning the championship atmosphere.

“I know the freshmen are going to be excited looking at the big lights,” he said, “but I’ve been there.”

The Quips scored three touchdowns longer than 70 yards, including an 84-yard kickoff return by Walker, a 73-yard run by Hayes and a 78-yard catch by John Tracy. They paired their big-play offense with a dominant defense, a combination that saw the game finish with a running clock.

Aliquippa built a 47-10 lead midway through the third quarter, enacting the 35-point mercy rule.

The team has now reached the WPIAL finals every year since 2008. The Quips (11-0) are two-time defending WPIAL champions and will face No. 2 seed McKeesport (11-1) in the finals at 8 p.m. Friday at Acrisure Stadium.

“We can’t take it for granted,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “That’s one thing I’m always thinking about. I don’t want us to ever take it for granted because it could be here and it could be gone. We make sure our kids understand what’s at stake.”

Walker, who stole momentum with a first-quarter kickoff return, marveled at just how long the championship game streak has lasted.

“I’m 17,” he said. “When I was 1, it started. That’s crazy.”

Mars (10-3), hoping to snap the streak, took a step in that direction by scoring a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. But that momentum lasted about 14 seconds, which was the time it took Walker to sprint to the end zone with his long kickoff return.

The Quips added touchdowns on their next four possessions to lead 34-7 at half.

“We said it all week, ‘You can’t let them have any big plays,’ like a turnover or a kick return, punt return or blocked kick,” Mars coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “None of that stuff. The minute they get that, the snowball starts going.”

Hayes had only 13 carries, but the Penn State-bound junior proved difficult to tackle. Along with his 73-yard touchdown run, he also scored on a 48-yarder just after halftime. Another long run, a 46-yarder, set up a touchdown for teammate Cameron Lindsey.

“We had trouble tackling 23,” Kasperowicz said of Hayes. “That’s an issue. He’s a pretty good darn back.”

Warfield said Hayes is stronger than he was a year ago and is running his best right now.

“He’s so explosive. When he hits that hole, he could be out, so you’d better be there,” Warfield said. “He’s playing very fast and he’s running very violent.”

Walker and Lindsey also scored twice. Walker added a 26-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Lindsey, a Pitt linebacker recruit, scored on a 24-yard catch and a 4-yard run. Quips quarterback Quentin Goode completed 9 of 12 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

In offensive yards, Aliquippa out-gained Mars, 430 to 106, through three quarters.

“There are no excuses. Aliquippa is a good team,” Kasperowicz said. “They were a little tougher than us tonight. They’re going to be a tough team to beat. We didn’t play our best.”

A 1-yard touchdown run by running back Evan Wright on fourth-and-goal gave Mars a 7-0 lead on the first possession. The Planets had 65 yards of offense on that opening drive but gained only 4 more yards in the entire first half.

Mars added a field goal in the third quarter and two touchdowns in the fourth. The Planets’ final touchdown came with no time left but Aliquippa’s championship game streak was already secured long before the clock ran out.

Walker, a junior, said the team knows all about the streak but it isn’t something the Quips spend much time worrying about.

“We just work hard week in and week out preparing for the teams that we play,” he said. “There’s no pressure. We don’t really think about it. When we get there, then we focus on that.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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