Aliquippa runs over Richland
Richland explored the creative parts of its playbook with a swinging gate formation that sent five players split wide left.
It used a trick-play pass where the linemen never dropped to a three-point stance.
It ran a fake punt from its own end with the backup quarterback throwing a long pass.
Aliquippa's response? A touchdown drive with 13 consecutive runs by Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson, a fourth-quarter effort that secured the Quips' 37-21 victory Friday night over Richland in a PIAA Class AA semifinal. The Aliquippa offense might have had little flair, but the approach worked flawlessly for the 15th straight time.
“Their playbook was nice,” Henry said, “but we had to come out and do what we've been doing all year — run the ball.”
They also played defense like they have all season. The Quips intercepted Richland quarterback Matt Shaffer three times and forced two missed field goals.
The victory at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium takes the Quips (15-0) to Hershey for the first time since 2003, when Darrelle Revis was on their roster. This time it was another talented two-way star who led them back. Henry rushed for 229 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Awaiting the Quips in Hershey next Saturday at noon will be either District 12 champion Imhotep Charter (13-0) or District 3 champion Wyomissing (14-0). That other semifinal will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday in Philadelphia.
This will be Aliquippa's fifth trip to the state championship, a destination the Quips fell one win short of reaching a season ago.
“We came up short last year,” Henry said. “... Now we've just got to finish.”
The junior had scoring runs of 9, 3 and 27 yards, with the last two coming in the fourth quarter when District 6 champion Richland (14-1) was trying to rally.
The Quips led, 23-6, at halftime. But Richland scored the only third-quarter points with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tanner Solarczyk and then recovered an onside kick seconds later.
When that Richland drive ended with a missed 39-yard field goal, Aliquippa turned to Henry and Swanson.
The Quips strung together the second of two lengthy scoring drives that showcased the talent of their offensive line. The 13-play possession — all rushes — covered 80 yards and consumed more than six minutes before ending with a 3-yard touchdown run by Henry. The fourth-quarter touchdown gave the Quips a 30-13 lead with 6:09 left, crushing Richland's momentum.
A 24-yard run by Swanson highlighted the drive, but the junior injured his right ankle on the play and didn't return. Swanson had 118 yards on 13 carries, including an 18-yard touchdown.
Aliquippa's first long drive covered 70 yards on 12 carries, ending with a 9-yard touchdown run by Henry with 4:28 left in the second quarter. Six straight times they ran up the middle, taking a 16-0 lead.
“We used to be a little more razzle-dazzle than we are now,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. “But we have big, strong linemen, so we run the ball.”
The Quips scored 23 second-quarter points with touchdown runs by Swanson (18 yards), Henry (9 yards) and Malik Shegog (2 yards). Shegog's touchdown run came 27 seconds before halftime and followed an impressive 13-yard run by him on fourth-and-10.
Shaffer completed 14 of 22 passes for 256 yards and two touchdown passes to Kyle Flick. But Shaffer also was intercepted three times, by Shegog, Malik Stewart and Jeffrey Cassucio.
“Hats off to (Richland's) coach; they played hard, and he had them ready,” Shegog said. “But our coaches had us even more ready. ... We knew they were going to throw everything at us.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com