Aliquippa wins 15th WPIAL championship
By the time the WPIAL Class AA championship kicked off just before 6 p.m. Friday, conditions at Heinz Field already had begun to rapidly deteriorate from tranquil and sunny to gusty winds and plunging temperatures.
Washington's chances of an upset fell off even more quickly.
Terry Swanson rushed for 206 yards, and Malik Shegog accounted for three touchdowns as top-seeded Aliquippa dominated both sides of the ball, defending its title with a 34-7 rout of Washington.
The Quips (13-0) outgained the Prexies, 543-114.
“We blocked them; they couldn't block us,” Quips coach Mike Zmijanac said. “It was really very simple. We played such great defense that I don't know if they might have ever scored today.”
Leading, 34-0, in the final minute of the third quarter, Aliquippa was on track for its seventh shutout of the season and third in four playoff games until Josh Wise returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown.
Three players had at least 100 rushing yards — but the WPIAL rushing champion was not one of them.
In fact, Washington's Shai McKenzie totaled less than one-sixth of what Swanson did. McKenzie entered with 2,656 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns. But against the team that led the WPIAL by allowing an average of 76.6 total yards per game, McKenzie was limited to 33 rushing yards on 18 carries.
“They have a tremendous running back, (but) he didn't have a chance to run,” Zmijanac said. “They couldn't block us, so he had nowhere to go.”
McKenzie came into the game averaging 12.4 yards per carry. He couldn't even average that per quarter against the Quips.
“They were able to overwhelm us and fly to the football, so we just couldn't get Shai going tonight,” Washington coach Mike Bosnic said.
“He's a great player. We just ran up against one of the best teams — maybe ever.”
No. 3 Washington (12-1) hadn't yet faced a team with Aliquippa's speed and playmaking ability.
Dravon Henry had 123 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Shegog had 100 rushing yards for the Quips, who were making their fifth consecutive title-game appearance.
“It (seemed) to me they didn't even want to win enough — they just felt good playing on Heinz Field,” Quips linebacker Devon Walker said.
Swanson had the Quips' biggest play, when he burst up the middle and outran the Washington defense 60 yards to give the Quips a 14-0 lead with 2:08 left in the first quarter.
“You can prepare maybe for size, but you can't prepare for speed — and that's something they have a lot of,” Wise said.
Shegog scored on a 12-yard run six minutes into the game and on a 22-yard run in the second quarter. He lofted a perfect ball into the hands of Dajon Perry in stride for a 28-yard touchdown reception with 26 seconds to play in the first half.
By the time Henry scored on an 8-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter, fans behind the Aliquippa bench were content in knowing the Quips were well on their way to their 15th WPIAL championship, third since 2008 and fifth under Zmijanac.
Zmijanac and most of his assistants are Aliquippa alumni, and many of the Quips are second- or third-generation Aliquippa players.
“The quarterback tradition in my family is very high, and they always tell me what they used to do; they did this and they did that,” Shegog said. “Well ... I want to be sitting with them saying, ‘I did this or I did that.' ”
Three wins away from its third PIAA championship, Aliquippa will meet Karns City next week in a quarterfinal at a time, date and site to be determined.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.