Central Valley stops Aliquippa in overtime in tense WPIAL title game

Saturday, November 16, 2019 | 5:44 PM

On the first play of overtime, Michael Barbuto was pushing toward the goal line when he felt something strange happen.

“I got to the 3-yard line and from there I slowly felt myself rising off the ground,” Barbuto said.

No, Barbuto didn’t suddenly learn the art of levitation.

The feeling he was experiencing was his offensive linemen — and anyone else who joined in — carry him into the end zone.

The touchdown, an extra point from Ethan Ott and a defensive stop led by Stephon Hall on an Aliquippa 2-point conversion try were the difference as the top-seeded Warriors earned a 13-12 win in the WPIAL Class 3A championship Saturday at Heinz Field.

“Coaches always talk about team chemistry. … That it’s not one guy and that you need everybody and we score a touchdown with 10 guys literally picking Mike up and carrying him into the end zone,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “Our guys are unselfish and they are happy when their teammate scores. That’s a great feeling to see what happened right there.”

The Quips appeared to have Barbuto held up at the 3-yard line, but the play continued and he crossed the goal line.

“We thought he was stopped, but they didn’t blow the whistle, so we can’t complain about that,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “You have to play until they blow the whistle. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I thought the refs did a pretty good job. We thought they missed a couple, but that’s part of the game.”

The Warriors (12-1) won their third WPIAL title since the school’s inception in 2010 and denied Aliquippa (11-2) its 18th championship.

In Aliquippa’s possession in overtime, Isaiah Towler scored on an 11-yard run. Warfield said he wasn’t confident in the kicking game, so the Quips went for 2. Towler took a direct snap out of a wildcat formation and ran to his left, but he was met by Hall and a host of Warriors a couple yards short of the goal line.

Hall had a strong fourth quarter with a pair of interceptions to go along with leading the charge on the game-winning stop.

“(The stop on) their 2-point play was just a host of our defensive players just running to the ball,” Lyons said. “They have a motto where they play the next play and put their hand in the dirt. It just goes to show you the heart they have playing defense.”

The Quips played with heavy hearts after learning of the death of the mother of quarterback Vaughn Morris on Friday night.

Morris started for the Quips and was 7 for 17 passing for 64 yards.

Central Valley rolled to a 45-6 road win over Aliquippa at Carl Aschman Stadium in the regular season finale, but the rematch was tight throughout. That wasn’t enough to take the sting away from the loss for Warfield.

“At Aliquippa we don’t take moral victories,” Warfield said. “It doesn’t matter if it is 45-6 or 13-12; we lost the game. I take my hat off to our kids. They went through some personal stuff the last 24 hours.”

Warriors running back Jaylen Guy was not surprised the Quips stayed with them for the duration.

“They definitely came to play, I’ll give them that,” Guy said. “I think the first time we played them, they were not expecting that. I think this time they were much more prepared for us.”

Aliquippa held a 6-0 lead through three quarters, but Central Valley tied the game when Guy caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ameer Dudley on a fourth-down play. Ott missed the extra point and the game remained tied 6-6.

Aliquippa moved the ball to the Central Valley 33 with less than three minutes remaining, but a Morris pass was intercepted by Hall near the goal line.

The Warriors then took over at their own 5 and drove past midfield, but the drive stalled near midfield when Ameer Dudley’s pass on a fourth and 11 sailed high and long.

A desperation heave from Morris in the final seconds was intercepted by Hall, forcing overtime.

Aliquippa controlled play in the first half and had a 36-13 advantage in play.

They took a 6-0 lead into the locker room after methodically driving down the field with a 15-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Chinua Solomon catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from Morris with 22 seconds remaining in the first half. The drive lasted nearly seven minutes.

Central Valley had only two possessions in the first half. The Warriors drove to the the Quips’ 16-yard line on their second possession, but the drive stalled when Ethan Ott’s 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

“It is hard to get anything going when you have (13) plays in one half,” Warriors senior lineman Sean FitzSimmons said. “Aliquippa was doing a good job moving the ball and working the clock. When they have the ball for long drives of nine or 10 plays, it’s pretty hard to score.”

Central Valley has a bye week next week before it enters the PIAA playoffs. The Warriors will look to win their first state title to add to what has been a special season.

“We hope this doesn’t wind down for a few more weeks, which means we aren’t ready to reflect yet, but when we do get to reflect we can think about how special it is to beat Aliquippa twice in one season,” Lyons said. “I don’t think too many teams can say they did that.”

Check out the archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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