Capacity crowd sees Aliquippa defeat rival Central Valley with dominant 3rd quarter

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Saturday, October 29, 2022 | 12:26 AM


Aliquippa’s DJ Walker saw fans standing rows deep along the fence, heard cheers of a capacity crowd and felt the excitement in the cold, October air.

That fueled his big night.

“It’s the energy,” he said. “You felt the vibe in the stadium. You felt the vibe on the field. Big hits. Big plays. The crowd. You’ve got to love it.”

Walker and his Aliquippa teammates seemed to feed on that energy after halftime, delivered a dominant third quarter and defeated rival Central Valley, 35-24, Friday night to clinch the Parkway Conference title and surely a No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs.

The Quips took the lead with three third-quarter touchdowns.

This matchup was anticipated for months as a clash of reigning state championships, and the game didn’t disappoint with three lead changes in the first half. The contest drew a capacity crowd to Freedom’s stadium.

“I’m really happy for both teams, the kids,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “It was a great night for the community and the county. It was packed. Everybody competed. It was a great thing.”

Walker scored twice on catches of 92 and 25 yards, teammate Tiqwai Hayes added two rushing touchdowns and Aliquippa’s defense didn’t allow a point after halftime.

Walker finished with 141 yards on five catches and made a key third-quarter interception on defense. Hayes had 166 rushing yards on 23 carries with touchdown runs of three and 20 yards.

Each team had one big quarter. Central Valley’s came in the second, when the Warriors scored all 24 of their points and running back Bret FitzSimmons reached the end zone twice for a 24-14 halftime lead.

Aliquippa answered with a 21-point third.

“You’ve got to love playing in a game like this,” Walker said. “Two teams not too far away. Bragging rights on the line. You’ve just got to love it. We came out here. We felt the energy. We felt the vibe.

“To win, that’s big time.”

When the playoff brackets are revealed at 2 p.m. Saturday on TribLive HSSN, it’s likely Aliquippa (9-0, 7-0) and Central Valley (9-1, 6-1) will draw the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in Class 4A. Aliquippa is the defending state champion in 4A. Central Valley won two consecutive PIAA 3A titles before moving up this season.

“We’ll see them again,” Walker predicted.

This loss was the first in three seasons for Central Valley, snapping a 36-game winning streak that was the longest active in the state. The Warriors had won their last four meetings with Aliquippa.

“I can’t stress this enough when I say that’s what high school football should be right there,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “Capacity crowd. Two good football teams. … I don’t think we disappointed anybody.”

Aliquippa erased a 10-point halftime deficit with three third-quarter touchdowns, one apiece by John Tracy (2-yard run), Walker (25-yard catch) and Hayes (20-yard run). The Quips went from trailing 24-14 at half to leading 35-24 after three.

“They had us on the ropes,” Warfield said. “It’s a game of runs. … They got a big run. I said, if we just hold our course, maybe we’ll get another run.”

Hayes got the third-quarter rally going with a 71-yard run on the first play after halftime. That set up Tracy for a 2-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 24-22.

Walker then turned the game Aliquippa’s way with two big plays in the span of a minute.

The senior caught a go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-3 late in the third for a 28-24 lead. Two plays later, Walker picked off a Central Valley pass near midfield, setting up Hayes for another quick touchdown.

The Quips led 35-24 when Hayes scored from 20 yards out on a one-play touchdown drive.

“We went in there at halftime and knew we were down, but we said it’s not over,” Walker said. “Stick together as a team. Keep being a team. Next-play mentality. That’s what we did.”

Penalties were a problem for Aliquippa. The Quips were flagged eight times before half including four against the defense. Two were 15-yarders that helped extend Central Valley drives.

That improved for the Quips after halftime.

Central Valley’s five second-half possession resulted in two interceptions, two failed fourth-down conversions and one punt. Quips defensive lineman Naquan Crowder had the team’s second interception on a screen pass in the fourth.

“The penalties were playing a big part on defense,” Crowder said. “We cleaned it up real well. Without the penalties, you see what happened.”

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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