Controversy clouds Aliquippa's win over Beaver Falls
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This already-storied rivalry now has a little added controversy.
Aliquippa's Terry Swanson ran 58 yards for a winning touchdown in Friday night's 34-28 victory over host Beaver Falls, though almost no one in orange chased him the final 30 yards.
Many thought the play was over.
That included Swanson, who slipped a tackle and heard his coaches shouting for him to keep running. He did, and referees awarded the Quips a touchdown.
“I thought it was dead,” Swanson admitted but insisted he never was down.
The winning touchdown with 5:32 left and a Dravon Henry touchdown run four minutes earlier were the first meaningful fourth-quarter points scored this season by No. 1 Aliquippa (8-0, 6-0), the top-ranked Class AA team in the state. No. 4 Beaver Falls (7-1, 6-1), which also entered unbeaten, was leading 28-20 and 28-26 in the fourth quarter at Geneva College's Reeves Field.
It was another memorable matchup in this nearly century-old rivalry.
“This was a wonderful game,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. “A wonderful atmosphere. Both teams played really hard. I said before the game this was going to be fun.”
Yet all were left wondering whether Swanson was down? And did someone blow a whistle?
Beaver Falls coach Ryan Matsook's answer to both was yes.
“It's a shame that the 8,000 fans who came here tonight have to remember this as the one that was won on an inadvertent whistle,” Matsook said. “It's just a shame. I feel bad for the kids.”
Swanson was sprinting along Aliquippa's sideline when Beaver Falls' Marcus Cleckley grabbed him by the shoulder pads. A flag was thrown for a horse-collar tackle, but Swanson slipped free. Aliquippa coaches shouted for Swanson to keep running, so he jogged toward the end zone.
Swanson said his hip always was on Cleckley's stomach. The flag was waived off and the touchdown was awarded.
“Truthfully, I wasn't sure if he was down or not,” Zmijanac said. “I couldn't tell.”
Unlike in Aliquippa's first seven victories, this fourth quarter wasn't meaningless. Beaver Falls had led 28-26 before Swanson's touchdown. Beaver Falls tried to drive for another score in the final minute, but a fourth-down sack near midfield ended its last chance.
Beaver Falls rushers Damian Rawl and Kahlil Caracter each reached 100 yards. Rawl had 111 on 24 carries. Caracter had 100 on 18. Quarterback Dan Stratton completed 6 of 14 passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Rawl, Pete Lyons and Sage Curry.
“I'm glad that we get this test early,” said Swanson, who rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns. “Last year we didn't get (tested) until the state playoffs. This test will prepare us for the future.”
For the first time this season, Aliquippa didn't have at least a two-touchdown halftime lead. Most weeks it's been much more. The Quips' previous four halftime scores were 39-0 over Ellwood City; 42-7 over Freedom; 50-8 over Mohawk and 37-0 over New Brighton.
This time, Aliquippa reached halftime tied 14-14.
Aliquippa's first lead came seven seconds into the second half. A 39-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dravon Henry to wideout Patrick Anderson put the Quips ahead, 20-16. Henry also had 116 yard rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries.
But that 20-14 lead lasted less than four minutes.
Beaver Falls answered with a 22-yard touchdown run by Caracter. A two-point run by Rawl failed, leaving the teams tied 20-20 at 5:27 in the third.
To break the tie, Beaver Falls' Curry caught a 29-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion one play into the fourth quarter. When Aliquippa's Henry scored two minutes later with a 22-yard run, Curry's tackle stopped the tying two-point conversion in the backfield.
Beaver Falls led 28-26 with 9:34 left.
Holding a two-point lead, Beaver Falls stayed aggressive. The Tigers went for it on fourth-and-2 at Aliquippa's 43-yard line, but Rawl was stopped 1 yard short. On the next snap, Swanson's long touchdown run put Aliquippa ahead to stay.
It was fitting that a flag was thrown on the game-winning play. The teams combined for 22, including 18 in the first half.
“They were ruining the continuity of the game,” Zmijanac said. “If those bunch of Beaver Falls kids and Aliquippa kids were playing here without officials, it would have been just as good a game.”
When Aliquippa beat Beaver Falls last season 66-7, the Quips scored on four of their first five possessions and returned a first-quarter interception for another touchdown. This time Beaver Falls owned the first quarter. The Tigers held the ball for 10 of the 12 minutes. One play into the second quarter, they led 14-0 after two long drives.
“We were embarrassed last year,” Matsook said. “I think we opened some eyes tonight that we're a pretty good football team, too. If they're No. 1, we're a touchdown off of that.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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