Belle Vernon big-play offense runs into Aliquippa roadblock

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Saturday, November 27, 2021 | 8:02 PM


Belle Vernon made it to the WPIAL championship game with highlight-reel plays that punctuated short scoring drives. It was almost the team’s trademark.

The top-seeded Leopards had short drives again in the Class 4A title game against No. 2 Aliquippa, but for the wrong reasons.

And that meant a long drive home.

Stymied by an outstanding Quips defense, the Leopards couldn’t get to the perimeter or shed defenders, finally meeting their match in a 28-13 loss Saturday evening in light snow at Heinz Field.

A series of uneventful three-and-outs, caused mostly by sealed edges, sent the Leopards packing on the way to their first loss.

Aliquippa (11-1) held Belle Vernon (10-1) to 40 yards in the first half and did not let the Leopards score until senior quarterback Devin Whitlock got into the end zone on a pair of short runs in the fourth quarter.

The Leopards were seeking their second WPIAL title and first since 1995. Instead, they watched the Quips win their WPIAL-record 18th championship.

“We paid attention to detail,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “We told the kids, preparation is going to win this game. When you put together 11 kids on the same page doing their job, with our talent, it’s tough to beat.”

Juniors Neco Eberhart (6-foot-2, 280 pounds), Naquan Crowder (6-4, 345) and senior Tyrese Jones (6-7, 365) helped to stack the box and clog the Leopards’ rushing attack.

“Those three linemen are so big and physical and strong,” Whitlock said. “They played their butts off the whole game. We tried to do what we can, but they did a great job against us.”

Whitlock finished with 69 yards on 13 carries, and sophomore Quinton Martin ran for 28 yards on 10 attempts.

“There’s one line to get past, one block really,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert. “We couldn’t do that, for whatever reason.

“It was pressure off the perimeter, off the edge. They did a good job of bringing a lot of people and a lot of pressure.”

The Quips, a Class A school forced to play up to 4A, recovered a fumble and intercepted two passes.

Belle Vernon rarely has had to play from behind, but it trailed 21-0 at the half after a big touchdown throw from sophomore Quentin Goode to junior Donovan Walker.

The Leopards’ longest run from scrimmage was 29 yards. Martin had an early 75-yard kick return, but it did not produce points.

“It was tough because they had long-possession drives,” Humbert said. “That was their gameplan. They wanted to eat up the ball and keep our offense of the field, and they did a great job at it. When we had the ball offensively, we weren’t very good with it. Every time we got a positive yard or two, we’d set ourselves back behind the sticks.”

Whitlock threw for 99 yards.

“When they started throwing the ball, we knew we were in a good position,” Warfield said.

Belle Vernon senior tight end/defensive end Cole Weightman played hurt. His right knee already in a brace, he said he tweaked the other leg.

He was noticeably in pain and limped between plays, but he did not want to come out of the game.

“These guys are my brothers, and they mean everything to me,” Weightman said. “I wanted to give them all I had. I hurt my other leg. … It was tough.”

The Leopards dodged injuries all season, but backups could not hold back the motivated Quips, who are buzzing like bees out of a poked hive about having to play up in class.

“I refuse to be the guy that uses injuries as an excuse because we rallied,” Humbert said. “All year, it’s been a next-man approach. Today, it may have caught up to us. We didn’t have the size. Our kids have overachieved in a lot of ways, especially our linemen. Maybe we’re just snake-bitten by Aliquippa.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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