Not concerned with any curse, bad luck or superstitions, Aliquippa aims to cap undefeated season with PIAA title
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | 2:38 PM
Aliquippa has an imperfect history in the state football finals that’s hard to explain.
Every time the Quips have gotten to the championship game with an undefeated record, they’ve lost. Every time they’ve gotten there with at least one loss on their record, they’ve won.
And, well, this year’s team is 13-0.
But with another state finals appearance ahead, coach Mike Warfield and his players didn’t spend this week trying to break any curse or shed any bad luck.
“I told them, I’m not superstitious,” Warfield said. “No Aliquippa team has gone undefeated and won it all. We’re going to try to do this thing, but it’s going to be tough.”
Aliquippa faces District 2 champion Dallas (15-0) in a PIAA Class 4A final at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cumberland Valley.
This is the third year in a row that Aliquippa has reached the finals. The Quips won the title in 2021 when they entered with a 12-1 record and lost last year when they were 13-0.
This is the sixth time the Quips have reached the finals with an undefeated record. They finished as state runners-up in 1988, 2000, ‘12, ‘15 and ‘22.
One of Warfield’s favorite sayings is that sometimes when you win, you actually lose, and when you lose, you actually win. It’s a metaphor about how losses can make a team better, and the sixth-year coach said it applies to the past two years.
It wasn’t a curse but maybe complacency that tripped up the Quips.
After a 34-27 win over Bishop McDevitt in the 2021 finals, they returned last year and lost 41-18 to a motivated McDevitt team.
“They were better than us,” Warfield said. “I think after we won it (in 2021), the next day Bishop McDevitt went to work. They wanted it more than we did. I say, sometimes when you win you actually lose because you don’t pay attention to the details. Sometimes when you lose you actually win because you make sure you’re aware of the preparation.”
Warfield said he sees a motivated Aliquippa roster nowadays.
“Last year, I don’t think we were 100% mentally prepared for that game,” senior John Tracy said. “We came out slacking. … The first time we played them we were ready and we wanted it more.”
The Quips are coming off a 52-32 win over Selinsgrove in which Tracy rushed for 270 yards and scored four touchdowns. Penn State-bound junior Tikey Hayes also scored twice and quarterback Quentin Goode contributed to three touchdowns.
Warfield said he knew his team was locked in long before the semifinal win.
“I knew during practice,” he said. “I knew through preparation all week. You could tell, when we were watching tape, nobody was talking. Everybody was tuned in.”
The only surprise that night was who Aliquippa would play in the championship. Most expected another rematch with Bishop McDevitt, but the District 3 power lost to Dallas, 26-23, in two overtimes in the other semifinal.
“I think we’re the only ones who thought we could do it,” Dallas coach Rich Mannello said with a laugh.
Dallas has reached the state championship game for the second time in five seasons. The Mountaineers also ran into a WPIAL champion in a 46-7 loss to Thomas Jefferson in the 2019 Class 4A final.
That loss to Thomas Jefferson led to changes in the Dallas program, Mannello said, including an overhaul of the offense. They were a run-heavy group in 2019 but this year have a quarterback with nearly 2,000 passing yards.
“When we were at Hershey, we got on the bus and said, OK, that worked and got us to a point, but we’re going to get back to a state championship … and we need to adjust what we’re doing,” Mannello said. “Because when you get on the western side of the state, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to be out-gunned in different phases. So we went to work that next day.”
Junior quarterback Brady Zapoticky has thrown for 1,910 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He also has rushed for 318 yards and 12 scores.
Junior Dylan Geskey is the team’s leading rusher with 1,473 yards and 24 touchdowns on 250 carries. Senior Zach Paczewski leads with 52 catches for 972 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After that 2019 loss, Mannello said the coaches focused on increasing the pace of play, adding new formations and getting the ball in the hands of their top athletes.
“The trick to it was not losing the physicality of the run game,” he said. “That’s Dallas football. It has been that way forever here.”
This is Dallas’ third appearance in the state finals. The team defeated Washington, 31-7, to win the Class 2A title in 1993.
“We definitely can’t underestimate them just because they’re not McDevitt,” Hayes said. “They still have very good athletes. We’ve got to prepare. That’s the key.”
Aliquippa is trying to win its fifth state title, joining Quips teams from 1991, 2003, 2018 and 2021. None of those teams had reached the finals with a perfect record but they’re celebrated nonetheless.
“One loss, no losses — there’s not too much to say as long as you come home with that gold,” Warfield said. “It’s my job this week to make sure we’re locked in and don’t get complacent.”
Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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