Defending state champion Aliquippa draws PIAA finals rematch with Bishop McDevitt

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Thursday, December 8, 2022 | 2:29 AM


Aliquippa started a sophomore at quarterback and a freshman at running back in the state finals last season while opponent Bishop McDevitt had a freshman behind center that day.

So, no, this rematch isn’t a surprise.

Defending champion Aliquippa (13-0) faces runner-up Bishop McDevitt (12-1) in the PIAA Class 4A championship for the second year in a row, this time at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cumberland Valley in Mechanicsburg.

The teams combined for a 34-27 game a year ago.

“A lot of the pieces are still there, definitely,” Quips coach Mike Warfield said. “I think they changed a few numbers, but some of them are the same people.”

Bishop McDevitt quarterback Stone Saunders, whose father is the Baltimore Ravens’ strength and conditioning coach, has Georgia and Michigan among his early college offers. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore has 3,416 passing yards and 49 touchdowns this season.

He’s not the only Division I player in the Crusaders’ backfield. Senior running back Marquese Williams, a 1,300-yard rusher with 26 touchdowns, is committed to Minnesota. Both are returning starters from last year’s 12-2 team.

The District 3 champions reached this year’s finals by defeating Crestwood, 35-0, last week in a PIAA semifinal.

“We knew after last year that they wanted to get back (to the state finals) with the talent they had coming back,” Warfield said. “I think they’ve added some additional pieces, so we knew they were gearing up for that possibility. They’re right where they want to be and we’re definitely right where we want to be.”

State championship rematches aren’t all that common. Since the PIAA playoffs started in 1988, only four other pairs of teams rematched in the finals.

Most recently, Central Valley defeated Wyomissing in the Class 3A finals in 2020 and 2021. Imhotep Charter defeated Cathedral Prep in the 2015 finals, before losing to Prep in 2016, ’17 and ’18.

Rochester won back to back over Southern Columbia in 2000 and ‘01, but lost to the District 2 opponent in 2002. West Allegheny lost to Strath Haven in 1999 and 2000, before winning in 2001.

Facing the same team twice in a row can have an impact on the game plan.

“To a certain degree,” Warfield said. “There are always little twists and turns with every team as far as what they like to do and what they’re really, really good at. We’ve just got to be cognizant and watch as much as we can to get tendencies for what they like to do and when they like to do it.”

Aliquippa won 34-27 a year ago behind a strong second-half running game. Then-freshman Tiqwai Hayes rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns as the team overcame a 13-0 deficit.

The Quips found themselves in an early hole after giving up a touchdown on the first possession and then fumbling away the kickoff that followed. But a long touchdown run by Hayes and an interception return by linebacker Cameron Lindsey, now a junior, sparked the Quips’ rally.

Tied 20-20 at halftime, they took the lead with a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly 9 minutes in the third and fourth quarters.

The Quips celebrated a win, but they’d like a faster start this time.

“This team here, if you get behind, it’s going to be difficult,” Warfield said, “especially with the experience that they have, the knowledge that we’re going to fight to the end. They’re going to try to put their foot on the gas. We’ve definitely got to be ready from the beginning to the end.”

Hayes, now a sophomore, leads the Quips with 1,911 yards and 30 touchdowns on 237 carries. He had 119 yards and a touchdown last week against Allentown Central Catholic, but was hurt in the 31-10 semifinal win.

Warfield said he was optimistic Hayes would be able to play in the finals.

Junior running back John Tracy rushed for a team-high 131 yards last week and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Quentin Goode threw three touchdowns in the win, increasing his season total to 22.

Saunders threw three touchdowns in their win over Crestwood. Williams rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown.

“Watching them on tape again, like last year, they’re a lot like us,” Warfield said. “It’s like we’re playing ourselves and I’m sure they feel the same way.”

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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