Aliquippa routs Sharon to reach PIAA Class 3A championship game
Saturday, December 1, 2018 | 7:06 PM
SLIPPERY ROCK — The opening sequences of Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A semifinal game didn’t go as Aliquippa planned it.
The Quips fumbled twice, including the opening kickoff, and saw Sharon convert one miscue into a touchdown.
But Aliquippa quickly recovered and scored on five consecutive possessions to roll past Sharon, 41-7, at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
The Quips (13-1) will seek their first state championship in 15 years at noon Saturday against Middletown at Hersheypark Stadium.
M.J. Devonshire scored four touchdowns, Eli Kosanovich passed for 223 yards and Will Gipson caught five passes for 137 yards to pace Aliquippa.
The early adversity was even a bit welcome to Quips coach Mike Warfield.
“That’s one of the things we always try to focus on,” Warfield said. “Athletically, physically, we’re typically OK, but sometimes we don’t play mentally tough. There’s still too many penalties, but we responded to those penalties and that was a good thing to see.”
Marcell Smith-Austin recovered a fumbled opening kickoff, and Lane Voytik threw a 37-yard scoring pass to C.J. Parchman three plays later to put the Tigers in business.
Josh Torr recovered another Aliquippa fumble five plays later, but Sharon couldn’t convert and quick-kicked into the end zone.
After a 60-yard run by Xavier Harvey, Devonshire scored from 20 yards out. On Sharon’s first play from scrimmage after that, Karl McBride picked off a Voytik pass at the Tigers 35.
Devonshire scored five plays later, and the Quips had the lead for good.
Gipson took a crossover pass from Kosanovich and raced 93 yards for the next score.
Aliquippa tacked on two more touchdowns and had a 34-7 advantage with 7 minutes, 36 seconds left in the half.
“The game got away from us in the second quarter,” Sharon coach Jim Wildman said. “To fall behind by 34-7 against that kind of size and athleticism, it’s tough to come back.”
Solvauhn Moreland intercepted a pass near the line of scrimmage and scored in the final minute of the half, but a series of penalties erased the score.
Voytik, who came into the game with 2,424 passing yards, was held to 96 yards and was often forced into bad throws by the onrushing Quips defense.
“Solvauhn is 300 pounds, but runs like a tight end,” Warfield said. “Quinn Greene is getting stronger and Elijah Mike has been dominant. A school our size usually doesn’t have three 300-pounders on the line.”
Aliquippa was stopped three times inside the Sharon 10, or the score could have been more lopsided.
The Quips played without their top ballcarrier, Avante McKenzie, who has 1,444 yards. Warfield wouldn’t elaborate on McKenzie’s absence, but was happy with the way Harvey responded, leading the way with 136 rushing yards.
“Harvey’s more than capable,” Warfield said. “It was a matter of him stepping up.”
The Tigers, hoping for their first trip to the state finals since 1995, finished at 10-4. Sharon had won five straight prior to Saturday.
“I think it’s a credit to the kids and coaches that the last five weeks we came to play and surprised some people,” Wildman said. “Didn’t turn out today the way we wanted it to, but, overall, we’re proud of what happened.”
With 257 career victories, Wildman wasn’t ready to commit to returning next year.
“We’ll talk, give me a week,” the veteran coach said to a reporter afterward.
Kosanovich went over the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season. He now has 3,021 yards.
George Guido is a freelance writer.