Losing was something never associated with the Aliquippa football team his past high school season.
The Quips pretty much dominated each and every opponent during the regular season and then rolled their success into capturing yet another WPIAL championship. The momentum never stopped, either, as Aliquippa inched toward a chance for the program's third state crown.
In the end, however, Aliquippa came up short of reaching its ultimate goal.
Despite owning a seven-point halftime lead against Wyomissing Area in the PIAA Class AA championship game Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, the Quips found themselves trailing by three points with less than a minute to go and were unable to convert a final offensive attempt during the closing 12 seconds of the game.
Wyomissing (16-0), located a few miles west of Reading, denied Aliquippa (15-1) of its perfect season and took home Berks County's first football state championship with a 17-14 victory.
The Quips, who won Beaver County's last state football title in 2003, had been the Post-Gazette's top-ranked Class AA team all season and found themselves with their backs against the wall for the first time all year.
Against Wyomissing, Aliquippa failed to score on four opportunities inside the 20 yard-line and converted only 1 of 9 third-down attempts and just 1 of 6 on fourth down.
"Missed opportunities and missed chances," longtime Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. "We did not take advantage of our opportunities and that's something you obviously have to do in big games like that."
It's also something the Quips hadn't had to worry about before the championship game.
Outscoring opponents by an average of 47.5-6.4 in 16 games, Aliquippa presented one of the best all-around Western Pennsylvania football teams this season. The Quips posted six shutout victories and forced the mercy rule on 12 opponents.
The program collected its WPIAL-record 15th district title after knocking off Washington, 34-7, on Nov. 23 at Heinz Field before beating Karns City and Richland during the next two rounds of the state playoffs.
Offensively, the Quips were led by a stellar backfield consisting of senior quarterback Malik Shegog and junior running backs Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson.
Shegog earned the starting quarterback spot this season after the program graduated three-year star quarterback Mikal Hall. Shegog completed 35 of 74 pass attempts for 662 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for another 701 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Henry, who rushed for 123 yards and scored both of Aliquippa's touchdowns against Wyomissing, paced the Quips' rushing attack this season with 1,919 yards and 32 touchdowns on 197 attempts.
Swanson rushed for 126 yards in the state final and finished with 1,546 yards and 21 touchdowns on 140 carries.
Seniors Hassahn Thompson and Shaquere McBride finished as the team's top receivers. Thompson had eight receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown, while McBride hauled in seven catches for 152 yards and three scores.
"Having everyone contributing is important to any program," Zmijanac said. "There's a reason why they call it a team. It's not about one person or a few players. It's about everyone doing their job. It takes an entire team to win."
And what impressed Zmijanac the most about this year's Aliquippa team?
"The character of my players," he said. "The way they carried themselves throughout the season."
Zmijanac will graduate another class of quality seniors, but he also anticipates returning seven juniors who started this past season.
"Players come and go every year," Zmijanac said. "Every team has its own identity and its own personality. I'm certainly going to miss these guys, but the good thing about sports is you always have another game.
"We'll have a new group of guys next year and more games next season."
The focus on preparing for next season isn't much of a concern for Zmijanac at this point in the year, knowing very well his returning players will make the most of their offseason.
"The weight room will be open to the kids and they'll certainly be working out on their own," he said. "I'm going to relax for a little bit before next year, but my players keep at it.
"They'll be playing basketball and running track. Then we have three weeks of voluntary workouts in May.
"I'll let them catch their breath, but I'm sure it won't be long before they're ready to get back at it."
First Published December 20, 2012 5:00 AM