Aliquippa looks to maintain WPIAL success in PIAA Class 3A title games
By: Chris Harlan
Thursday, December 6, 2018 | 8:39 PM
Call it a hunch, but Middletown coach Brett Myers was confident that WPIAL champion Aliquippa would reach Hershey this year.
Just consider the past two years.
In 2016, Middletown made its first trip to Hershey and lost to WPIAL champion Beaver Falls. Middletown battled its way back to Hersheypark Stadium last year and lost to WPIAL champion Quaker Valley.
This year, they’re back again.
And now it’s powerhouse Aliquippa (14-1) that awaits District 3 champion Middletown (13-1) in the PIAA Class 3A final at noon, Saturday in Hershey.
“Don’t get me wrong, Sharon is really good,” Myers said of Aliquippa’s semifinal opponent, “but it’s obvious right now that District 7 has some good football going on in 3A. It’s pretty clear.”
Not since 2007 have three different WPIAL teams won the same classification three years in a row. McKeesport, Upper St. Clair and Central Catholic won consecutive state Class 4A titles from 2005-07.
But that’s moot for Aliquippa.
The past two seasons were successful for the WPIAL overall but not for the Quips, who had to watch two conference rivals celebrate in Hershey. It could have been them instead. Aliquippa was a WPIAL championship favorite both years but lost 35-22 and 2-0 in the finals at Heinz Field.
“I think it was a learning lesson for these guys,” first-year Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said of the title-game losses. “It goes to show that you have to come ready to play every game. I think they’ve learned from it, but we’ll see Saturday.”
This year, the Quips defeated Derry in the WPIAL finals 42-19, and then eliminated District 10 champion Sharon in a PIAA semifinal 41-7 last week.
Aliquippa seeks its first state title since 2003 after runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2012. With a new head coach and maybe a new swagger, reaching Hershey was a season-long goal for the Quips.
“Coming from Aliquippa, that’s every year,” Warfield said. “Expectations are high. Of course you take it week to week, but I think everyone was looking toward the end of the season and thinking about where they could potentially end up.”
Aliquippa seeks its third state title while Middletown chases its first. The two finalists each rode strong offenses to Hershey but with differing styles.
Quips quarterback Eli Kosanovich has passed for twice as many yards as Middletown’s Scott Ash: 3,019 to 1,514.
But Middletown likes to run.
Junior tailback Jose Lopez (5-11, 195) leads with 2,221 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 263 carries, while senior Richie Sykes (6-1, 200) has 1,224 yards and 15 touchdowns on 132 carries.
Warfield compared the running game somewhat to Derry.
“They have a great running back in (Lopez) and a great line,” Warfield said. “They’re aggressive and they play well together, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
Lopez is a workhorse who averages 20 carries per games. He had 19, 24, 27 and 22 in the past four, and used them to rush for 208, 210, 261 and 221 yards. He also scored 13 times.
“Their running back is dynamic,” Warfield said. “Everybody on the defense has to take care of their responsibly. If one of the guys lets up on any given play, (Lopez) can take it the distance.”
Aliquippa could have its leading rusher back this week.
The Quips faced Sharon last week without senior Avante McKenzie, who has 1,510 yards and 30 touchdowns. The decision to sit McKenzie was a coach/school decision, said Warfield, who didn’t elaborate. But Warfield said McKenzie is likely to play Saturday.
“I believe so,” Warfield said. “I haven’t made the decision yet, but I’m pretty sure he will be.”
Without him, the Quips still rushed for 271 yards last week. Xavier Harvey had 140 yards on 15 carries, and MJ Devonshire added 117 yards and three touchdowns on 12 attempts.
While watching Aliquippa video, what caught Myers’ attention was that depth.
“Some of those other guys don’t get enough credit,” Myers said. “Everybody talks about (certain) skill guys, but those linemen, the linebackers and some of the skill guys who don’t get talked about deserve some attention.
“They’re good, obviously, to be in the state finals.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.