Late touchdown gives South Fayette its 4th WPIAL title
Of all the things Conner Beck was likely to do Saturday night, twisting and contorting his body while falling backward had to rank somewhere near hitchhiking or swimming in the Allegheny River.
South Fayette's wide receiver hadn't practiced all week, the result of a strained left hip flexor that he suffered during a WPIAL Class AA semifinal win over Beaver Falls.
But when South Fayette needed him the most, Beck, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, delivered.
Beck's 19-yard touchdown reception — one that saw him push the ball across the goal line a split-second before Aliquippa's Dravon Henry knocked it out — produced the final points in a 34-28 win for South Fayette in the WPIAL Class AA championship game at Heinz Field.
“I knew I was close,” Beck said. “I knew I had to reach it. I just prayed that the ball was across the line.
“As soon as (Henry) knocked the ball out, I was freaking out. I looked right at the official, saw him signal touchdown and breathed a sigh of relief.”
Roman Denson and Beck intercepted Aliquippa quarterback Darrien Fields to seal the victory, which became South Fayette's fourth WPIAL championship and first since 2010. The Lions topped Aliquippa, 19-6, in that game.
A drive earlier, Aliquippa took a 28-27 lead when Patrick Anderson's leaping catch over Denson set up Terry Swanson's third touchdown run of the game, a 29-yarder with 4:01 to go.
“We talked about, ‘It's time to be great.' ” South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh said. “We live for these moments. You wouldn't want to win it any other way. Fourth-quarter comeback, we just came together.”
It's the second controversial ending to a game this season for Aliquippa, which beat Beaver Falls in Week 8 after officials ruled that Swanson's knee did not touch the ground on a game-winning run.
“I have no idea,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said of whether the call on Beck's touchdown was accurate. “It appeared it should have been an incomplete pass, but I'm not an official. I'm just coaching.”
South Fayette will play Karns City at 1 p.m. Saturday at Clarion University in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Brumbaugh, who eclipsed 3,000 yards for the season, completed 16 of 35 passes for 315 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Justin Watson had five catches for 130 yards and a 68-yard score. Beck finished with five for 112.
Brian Coyne kicked a pair of field goals for South Fayette.
Aliquippa got 166 yards and three touchdowns from Swanson and 68 from Henry, but the Quips (12-1) couldn't overcome turning the ball over five times on downs, each of them in Lions territory.
“You're not going to stop (Aliquippa),” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “We bent, but at crucial times (the defense) made some big-time stops for us.”
Zach Walker led South Fayette (13-0) with 13 tackles, while Beck added 11.
Aliquippa led, 22-20, with 1:18 left in the third quarter when Fields' 9-yard touchdown pass to Anderson (four catches, 122 yards) slipped through Denson's fingertips.
But Hunter Hayes, carrying for just the second time all game, broke off a 49-yarder that set up a 7-yard scoring run from JJ Walker. South Fayette had a 27-22 edge at 11:00 of the fourth.
Beck said he was the second option on the play that resulted in his touchdown catch. But after the Quips covered Watson, Beck found an opening down the seam.
He adjusted to the ball and stretched, a series of movements Beck never thought possible when he was counting on Biofreeze, tape and a heavy dose of hope to get him through the biggest game of his life.
“I didn't know if he would play,” Rossi said. “When it came down to the fourth quarter, he's an unbelievable player. I just can't say enough about a kid who didn't practice — couldn't practice, couldn't walk. The toughness of this kid is just tremendous.”