Backyard rivals Central Valley, Aliquippa to play for WPIAL Class 3A title

Thursday, November 14, 2019 | 4:40 PM

Every year, as Central Valley football coach Mark Lyons prepares for a new season in the brutal heat of August, he longs for the moments he can put on a winter coat and stocking cap to patrol the Warriors’ sideline. In fact, he’s a regular Punxsutawney Phil: he wants six weeks of winter — or at least cold temperatures — for his players by season’s end.

“That’s the unique thing about this game,” Lyons said. “You start off the season going through heat acclimatization, and then if you’re good enough you’re trying to figure out how to stay warm while you play games in November and December. If you’re good enough to still be playing in the cold weather, you know you’re doing something right.”

But for Aliquippa, spending championship weekend on Pittsburgh’s north shore is also akin to Groundhog Day, albeit the Hollywood version. WPIAL championship day has been the same at Aliquippa for the last 12 years. The Quips have made a dozen trips to Heinz Field.

Aliquippa will make its 12th consecutive appearance in a WPIAL championship game when it faces backyard rival and Tri-County Conference foe Central Valley on Saturday for the Class 3A title. Kickoff is 2 p.m. Aliquippa is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion.

“Let’s be honest, that’s an incredible feat,” Lyons said of Aliquippa’s championship game streak. “I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it. It’s going to be like a home game for Aliquippa. “

Indeed, most of the current Aliquippa players hadn’t even started elementary school the last time the Quips failed to make a WPIAL title game. Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield doesn’t know how much of a factor the experience of playing at Heinz Field will make for his team.

“It’s hard to tell,” Warfield said. “It all depends on how you look at it. We have experience playing there, but Central Valley’s coaches have been there before, so they’ll have their players prepared. Come game time, I don’t think it will be a factor.”

This will be Central Valley’s fourth appearance in a WPIAL championship game in its 10-year existence.

“It can be intimidating,” Lyons said of playing in the Steelers’ home stadium. “That’s why it’s important to settle in. Our job as coaches is to make sure we get them settled in.”

One thing will be different for Aliquippa as opposed to the previous 11 years in the title game. The Quips will enter the game as a decided underdog. Despite its gaudy 11-1 record, the lone loss on its resume was a 45-6 thrashing at the hands of Central Valley in the regular-season finale.

Warfield said his team is not going to pretend that game never took place.

“We are all aware of what happened,” Warfield said. “We’re not going to have amnesia about it. It happened. Everyone knows what we did wrong and what we need to do to be better than we were that night.”

While Central Valley’s convincing win over Aliquippa three weeks ago sent shock waves throughout the WPIAL, if not the state, Lyons wasn’t quite as surprised.

“We were very confident going in,” Lyons said. “That’s not a knock against Aliquippa. We just have a team that, when they do things the right way, they give themselves a chance to win every time. That game was a confidence builder, and they’ve taken that momentum and built on it.”

Central Valley is led by multi-threat quarterback Ameer Dudley, who has amassed more than 2,000 yards of offense this season and accounted for 29 touchdowns. The junior has passed for 1,647 yards and 20 TDs and added 420 yards on the ground and scored nine times.

Warfield, a former Central Valley assistant before taking over at Aliquippa two seasons ago, knows Dudley is the straw that stirs the drink for the Warriors.

“I was there when he was just a freshman, and you could see then how talented he was,” Warfield said. “He does everything well in all phases of the game. We have to be aggressive and try to contain him, but we also have to be mentally disciplined. We can’t make mistakes against a team like Central Valley.”

“Ameer has just gotten better and better,” Lyons said. “His learning curve has been huge. I know coaches say this all the time, but the game has slowed down for Ameer. He knows exactly what he’s doing out there, both with his arms and his legs.”

Aliquippa, meanwhile, has been the picture of balance. Quarterback Vaughn Morris has passed for 1,109 yards and 18 TDs, while tailback Antonio Quinn has rushed for 1,188 yards and 13 TDs. Three different receivers have double-digit receptions on the season.

“This season, we truly have taken things game-by-game,” Warfield said. “We’ve had different kids step up at different times. It’s a matter of kids stepping up and performing, and each week we’ve had that.”

With the exception of one game. The Quips would like to rectify that performance from their previous matchup with Central Valley.

“It’s all a matter of us going in and playing with a positive attitude,” Warfield said. “We’ll be ready. We’ll be there on Saturday at 2 o’clock.”

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