Rematch between Belle Vernon, Aliquippa has more on the line this time around

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Saturday, November 27, 2021 | 1:01 AM


Saturday is Round 2 between Belle Vernon and Aliquippa, only this time the stakes are a little higher than their last meeting.

The Leopards (10-0) and Quips (10-1) will meet at 3 p.m. in the WPIAL Class 4A football championship game at Heinz Field. The game is a rematch of the 2020 Class 4A semifinal, which Aliquippa won 33-25.

“We’re going to watch the film of last year’s game. The thing is, we had them. We were right there,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “We made a couple of critical mistakes, and some things didn’t go our way. We let the winds blow by, and now we get another shot at them.”

While the Leopards advanced with a 21-7 win over rival Thomas Jefferson, the Quips needed overtime to knock off McKeesport, Belle Vernon’s fellow Big Eight rival. A touchdown pass in the second overtime gave Aliquippa a 27-21 win.

“The thing that really stood out for me watching that game was the sheer aggressiveness they showed,” Humbert said of the Quips. “They have three guys up front that can eat up some space, and they showed a lot of aggressiveness off the edge.”

The Quips’ offense starts with sophomore quarterback Quentin Goode. He has completed 91 of 157 passes for 1,529 yards and 15 touchdowns.

His top receiver is Cyair Clark, who has caught 26 passes for 513 yards. Tajier Thornton has 22 catches for just under 400 yards.

The running game is led by freshman phenom Tiqwai Hayes, who has rushed for 1,376 yards and has 16 touchdowns. Jon Tracy has carried 70 times for 483 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“Offensively, they’re so balanced. They can show multiple tight formations. They can grind yards up the middle and get downhill with counters, then they’ll show you a spread look,” Humbert said. “We have to make sure we’re as multiple defensively as they are offensively.”

The Leopards’ defense is led by senior defensive end Cole Weightman (76 tackles, 17 TFL, seven sacks) and senior linebacker Logan Hoffman (70 tackles, 10 TFL).

“One thing we need to be aware of is where Quinton Martin is lined up,” Quips coach Mike Warfield said. “They’re talented all around, but he’s so fast and comes up quick. We really have to take into account his talent and speed.”

Warfield said the keys to the game are rather simple.

“It’s all going to come down to who blocks better and who tackles better,” he said. “The thing with them is, you can’t simulate the speed Whitlock brings. We just can’t do it in practice. That’s going to be our challenge.”

Belle Vernon quarterback Devin Whitlock comes into the game with 2,212 yards of total offense. He has rushed for 1,189 yards and thrown for 1,023.

“He can throw the ball as well as he can run it,” Warfield said. “He can throw the outs, the posts and he just plays so fast.

“Martin out of the backfield, he’s hard to bring down being 6-3 and near 200. He’s hard to bring down, especially with the way he runs.”

Evan Pohlot and Chase Ruokonen have been huge in the passing game, but their blocking might be their biggest attribute.

“That’s been the underlying story all year, our receivers blocking,” Humbert said. “Evan Pohlot had some unbelievable blocks last week against TJ. When those guys are blocking, they’re opening huge lanes for Q and Devin.”

Humbert said his defense must be aware of Aliquippa’s versatility.

“They can stretch you laterally,” he said. “With Hayes, he’s a little like Tyler Boyd from Clairton. He can stretch you, he can run between the tackles and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. We have to account for him three ways.”

Field position will be key again, and Humbert thinks his team has the advantage, especially on special teams.

“TJ wanted to keep it away from Devin. We were forcing them to punt from deep in their end and we were able to get the ball around the 50,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword for teams. You can try to keep it out of his hands, or Q’s hands on kickoffs, but it’s going to cost you in field position.”

Humbert raved about the job Tyler Kovatch has done kicking and punting. He pinned TJ inside its own 20 multiple times last week, including one inside the 5.

“He’s done a phenomenal job, and our kick coverage teams have been great,” Humbert said. “We’re a little different from other teams. We’re going to put our 11 best guys out there to stop you in the return game. This is probably the best our specials have been in a long time.”

The Quips are playing in their 14th straight WPIAL championship game, and the Leopards are looking to win the program’s first championship since 1995.

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