Bishop McDevitt punishes Aliquippa for mistakes in PIAA Class 4A title game

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Thursday, December 8, 2022 | 9:56 PM


MECHANICSBURG — In the state football championships, against a quarterback with major-college talent and an opponent seeking redemption, there’s very little room for error.

Aliquippa can attest.

The Quips lost two fumbles, threw two interceptions and watched Bishop McDevitt quarterback Stone Saunders convert their mistakes into touchdowns Thursday night as the Crusaders won the PIAA Class 4A championship rematch, 41-18, at Cumberland Valley.

It was a drastic reversal from a year ago.

Yet afterward, Quips coach Mike Warfield wasn’t distraught, wasn’t fretting about what could’ve been and refused to let his players sulk. In fact, Warfield admitted he was in a pretty good mood in the moments after the loss, all things considered.

“I am, because that’s a pretty good team,” Warfield said of the District 3 champions. “The kids did the best they could. We’re making no excuses. We’re bringing up nothing other than we’ve got to give them credit and they beat us tonight.”

There’s a reason national championship hopefuls Georgia and Michigan already have offered scholarships to Saunders, the Crusaders’ sophomore star.

The son of the Baltimore Ravens strength coach, Saunders passed for five touchdowns including four to junior receiver Tyshawn Russell, scoring plays that covered 70, 12, 28 and 11 yards. Russell finished with 121 yards on four catches — all touchdowns.

Their longest connection came on their team’s first offensive snap, a sign of things to come.

“We knew we couldn’t let it end the same way it did last year,” Saunders said. “We just kept going, kept fighting, and we’re champs.”

Saunders, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback, entered Thursday with 3,416 passing yards, 49 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He already has more than 6,000 career passing yards in two seasons.

The state title was the second overall for Bishop McDevitt (13-1) and its first since 1995. The Crusaders lost to Aliquippa, 34-27, in the finals last season and spent the past year thinking about a rematch.

“It was all year,” Bishop McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter said. “I told our team last year, you have 364 days to fix this because we’re going to face them again.”

Aliquippa (13-1) was seeking its fifth state title.

The four turnovers were uncharacteristic for an Aliquippa team that was plus-23 in turnover margin. They’d lost only two fumbles all season and threw five interceptions. They were playing at less than 100% health and their starting center was out with a knee injury, but Warfield insisted the Quips weren’t looking for excuses.

“You’ve got to be a man about this,” said Warfield, who urged his players to show strength in defeat. “You’re a man when you win. Sometimes you’ve got to be a man when you lose. It’s tough, though, for kids who are 17 or 18 years old. They don’t quite fully understand the meaning of defeat. You don’t grow without pain. This is painful, and they’re going to grow from it.”

The loss snapped a 25-game winning streak for the Quips, who just finished their third season in Class 4A. The team is reluctantly playing three classes higher than its true enrollment because of the PIAA’s competitive-balance rule. Yet, for the second year in a row, they finished their season in the state finals.

“I’m not taking away from (Bishop McDevitt’s) accomplishments, but people never want to talk about the elephant in the room as far as us playing up,” Warfield said. “That’s all I’m going to say. For us to do that is incredible.”

Saunders completed 10 of 16 attempts for 167 yards, but did throw three interceptions. Two of those INTs came in the second half, turnovers that gave the Quips some late but short-lived hope.

Aliquippa overcame a 13-0 deficit a year ago to defeat McDevitt in the state championship. This time, the hole was just too big. The Quips trailed 34-6 late in the third quarter.

The closest Aliquippa got was 16 points early in the fourth quarter after a couple of touchdowns by its sophomore star. Tiqwai Hayes returned an interception 55 yards to the end zone and added a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth to trail 34-18.

Bishop McDevitt crushed the Quips’ hopes with 2-yard touchdown run by senior Marquese Williams with 5:27 left. Williams, a Minnesota recruit, finished with 123 rushing yards on 24 carries.

Hayes rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries, and John Tracy added 86 yards on 16 attempts. Quips quarterback Quentin Goode completed 4 of 17 passes for 18 yards and two interceptions.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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