Quaker Valley ready to finish ‘beautiful trip’ against Middletown in PIAA Class 3A title game

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Friday, December 8, 2017 | 9:33 AM


Through a season filled with firsts and big game after big game, Quaker Valley has risen to the moment each time on the field.

For that reason, Quakers coach Jerry Veshio thinks his team will be just fine this weekend in Hershey, even though the prize is bigger than ever this time.

The Quakers (13-1) have a chance to win the first state championship in their program's history when they face District 3 champion Middletown (14-0) in the PIAA Class 3A final at noon Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, and for the senior-laden Quakers, it's a position they were quietly confident they would be in for much of the season.

“We've played some important games, starting back in our conference with Beaver, Central Valley and playing Aliquippa in a TV game, and then playing Derry, Seton LaSalle in the playoffs and playing at Heinz Field,” Veshio said. “In all those important games, they haven't blinked. I've seen how our kids react, and this week, it's been business as usual. That's been the mantra since Day 1.”

“It's been a beautiful trip for us with some ups and some downs,” Quakers senior receiver/defensive back Isaiah McNair said. “No matter what, we're a family, and we walk out feeling like we're on top no matter what happens. But we're ready for the big game.”

The Quakers' opponents are no strangers to big games, either. Middletown is in its second straight state final as an undefeated team after losing last season to Beaver Falls, 30-13.

Both teams have been fueled by their defenses this season. The Blue Raiders have allowed more than 10 points just once, a shootout that ended as a 45-34 regular-season win over Trinity on Sept. 29, and they have allowed just two touchdowns in four postseason games.

The Quakers, meanwhile, have had success against three straight outstanding running backs — Seton LaSalle's Lionel Deanes, Aliquippa's Avante McKenzie and Sharon's Jordan Wilson — and next face Blue Raiders senior Brady Fox, Middletown's all-time leading rusher with more than 4,000 yards in his career.

“They're a pretty good football team, and you don't get this far without some weapons. (Fox) ran over the team they played last week,” Veshio said. “They actually look a bit like us defensively. They don't have huge guys like Aliquippa, but they play good team defense, they're quick and they get to the ball.”

Fox had 161 yards and four scores in his team's lopsided 49-7 semifinal against Conwell-Egan, but he wasn't a one-man show, as quarterback Scott Ash threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

Quaker Valley showed its versatility on offense in its semifinal, a 43-23 win over Sharon, with quarterback Ricky Guss throwing four touchdowns and rushing for two more. McNair caught two of the touchdowns, while running back Jordan Taylor, McNair and Guss all finished with at least 75 yards from scrimmage as the Quakers spread the ball around.

Middletown, located just a few miles southwest of Hershey, has already played at Hersheypark Stadium this season in the District 3 title game and should feel at home in the final, especially as winners of 28 of their past 29 games.

But the Quakers, who will be staying overnight after traveling Friday and practicing in Hershey, have been unflappable in new situations, whether it has been televised games, playing at Heinz Field or the pressure of the team's first-ever state playoff run.

“(The stadium) may feel like an advantage to them, but I don't think it matters to us,” Veshio said. “Consistency is a reliable teacher, and I don't think our kids will be affected. I know from my days playing and coaching, back then and this year, you don't really notice any outside things once the game starts.

“We're going up there Friday. We're going to have a little send-off at the school and then practice up there. … We have dinner set up at the hotel and a team meeting that night at 8:30. We'll get up the next morning, go to the stadium, kick off at noon, and hopefully start the trip home as state champions around 4.”

Matt Grubba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com

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