Aliquippa celebrates ‘incredible, shameful’ victory over Belle Vernon in WPIAL Class 4A final

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Saturday, November 27, 2021 | 5:56 PM


Small-school Aliquippa might be short on students, but nobody has more WPIAL football titles than the Quips.

Despite playing three levels above its Class A enrollment, Aliquippa added an 18th title Saturday night by winning the Class 4A championship, an achievement the Quips called both “incredible and shameful.” Freshman running back Tiqwai Hayes scored twice, and the defense held Belle Vernon’s playmakers largely in check, letting No. 2 seed Aliquippa celebrate a 28-13 victory at Heinz Field.

No. 1 Belle Vernon (10-1) was held scoreless until the fourth quarter.

“It’s huge for these kids to accomplish this when a lot of people doubted us, especially this week,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “With them having the one-two punch (of Devin Whitlock and Quinton Martin), a lot of people probably didn’t think we were going to win. It’s incredible.”

The WPIAL title was the second in four years for Aliquippa (11-1), which won Class 3A in 2018. No other team has more than 14 WPIAL titles. But despite the Quips’ continued success, Warfield didn’t soften his outspoken stance that playing Class 4A football is unhealthy and unfair for his players.

The Quips are playing in 4A against their wishes because of a PIAA competitive-balance rule that forced them up one classification. The team wanted to remain in Class 3A, and Warfield has insisted for months it’s unsafe for a school Aliquippa’s size to face 4A teams.

Warfield joked Saturday that Belle Vernon has more cheerleaders than Aliquippa’s high school has seniors.

“It’s incredible and shameful at the same time,” Warfield said. “It’s incredible that a school that graduates 39 kids is playing against teams that are graduating 280 kids — seven or eight times as many. That’s incredible that we can compete.

“But it’s shameful to me for the people that are making those decisions to have us playing up so high. … There’s no team in the country that’s being forced to play up three classifications.”

Aliquippa plays District 4 champion Jersey Shore in a PIAA semifinal Dec. 3 or 4 at a site and time to be determined. If Aliquippa reaches the state finals, the PIAA rule might force the team to Class 5A next season.

Belle Vernon was trying to win its first WPIAL title since 1995. This was the Leopards’ fourth finals appearance since then, including a runner-up finish in 2019. But this year’s team, with Whitlock as a dynamic playmaker at quarterback, seemed poised to end that wait.

“It hurts,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “To be honest, it’s devastating. We’ve been on this quest for two years. I don’t think people realize the time, energy and effort you put into it. … When you come up short, and this is your second trip here, it doesn’t get any easier.”

Belle Vernon lost to Aliquippa in last year’s semifinals.

Aliquippa reached the finals for the 14th year in a row, a remarkable feat for a team with a 14-year-old freshman in the backfield. Hayes, the freshman star, rushed for 133 yards and scored on first-half touchdown runs of 1 and 13 yards. Donovan Walker added a 38-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the first half, sending the Quips to halftime leading 21-0.

Whitlock tried to rally Belle Vernon with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs. The senior scored on runs of 5 and 6 yards, but an 86-yard kickoff return touchdown by Aliquippa’s Cyair Clark dashed any comeback hopes.

The Quips might be a small school, but they have one of the biggest offensive lines in the WPIAL. With Tyrese Jones (6-foot-7, 365 pounds) and Naquan Crowder (6-4, 345) as bookend tackles, Aliquippa capitalized on that size advantage and relied on its ground game.

The Quips rushed 53 times for 225 yards.

Hayes handled 26 carries. Sophomore Jon Tracy added 91 yards on 22 carries, and Aliquippa led time of possession by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (30 minutes, 39 seconds to 17:21).

“Defensively, we couldn’t bottle them up and squeeze like we did against (Thomas Jefferson),” Humbert said. “We really expected them to throw more, but they didn’t need to go to that. They were dominant up front.”

Aliquippa quarterback Quentin Goode completed 5 of 9 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Belle Vernon rushed for only 103 yards on 25 carries. Martin was held to 28 yards on 10 carries, and Whitlock ran 13 times for 69 yards. Whitlock’s longest run was 29 yards. The quarterback completed 5 of 15 passes for 99 yards and two interceptions.

“It’s almost a worst nightmare in terms of time of possession,” Humbert said. “They’re just grinding the clock … and we don’t help ourselves out by going three and out, three and out.”

Walker and Brandon Banks had interceptions for Aliquippa.

Belle Vernon saw its best first-half scoring chance early in the second quarter but failed to reach the end zone after having first-and-goal at the 5. A 75-yard kickoff return by Martin had the Leopards in position. They settled for a field goal attempt after a 5-yard penalty, but the kick missed at Heinz Field’s open end.

Aliquippa lead remained 14-0.

“The disappointing thing is we didn’t help ourselves out,” Humbert said. “Hats off to Aliquippa, no doubt. A lot of our positive was negated by negative penalties.”

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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