New Brighton was penalized on its first offensive play for too many men on the field. The Lions spent the rest of the night looking as if they were playing seven against 11.
Then again, a lot of teams look that way against Aliquippa.
Aliquippa, the Post-Gazette's No. 1 Class AA team in the state, took the heart of the Lions with a superb defensive effort and threw in some big plays to crush visiting New Brighton, 43-0, in a Midwestern Conference game at Carl Aschman Stadium.
New Brighton was off to one of its best starts in years with a 3-0 record. The Lions also came in leading the WPIAL in scoring at 52.7 points a game and quarterback Gabe Greco was one of the WPIAL's leading passers with 705 yards in three games.
But New Brighton was no match for Aliquippa (4-0), a team loaded with playmakers on offense and defense. Aliquippa led, 37-0, at halftime and the mercy rule was in effect the entire second half.
It certainly didn't help that Greco injured his left leg late in the first quarter and never returned to the game. Even with Greco, New Brighton might have had problems.
"I have really, really good players and they played really, really well except for some mental errors we made early and a couple penalties," said Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac. "But I do have really good players and that's obvious."
Senior running back-defensive back Dravon Henry is one of those really good players. He did his best impersonation of former Aliquippa star Darrelle Revis as Henry scored three different ways -- a pass reception, interception return and a run. He finished with 98 yards on eight carries.
Teammate Terry Swanson rushed for 128 yards on only six carries and quarterback Darrien Fields completed 6 of 8 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Aliquippa's defense held New Brighton to 79 total yards. Zmijanac singled out defensive ends Emonee Simmons and sophomore Kaezon "Shazam" Pugh as keys.
"I thought our defense was the story of the game," Zmijanac said, "and Simmons and Shazam Pugh. We call Pugh Shazam because when he first came to me, I said, 'what's your name?' He gave me all these K's and Z's. I said, 'I'll never remember all of that. You're Shazam the rest of your life.' "
Aliquippa's big plays -- offensively and defensively -- doomed New Brighton in the first half. The Quips had five scoring plays of 30 yards or more, including one on the final play of the half. Aliquippa averaged 15.3 yards on 16 running plays in the first half and 16 yards on six pass completions.
Aliquippa scored first on Henry's 14-yard touchdown pass from Fields. Seven plays after the ensuing kickoff, Greco threw a soft pass to the left sideline. Henry showed a little of why many major colleges want him as a defensive back. He jumped the pass, intercepted it and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.
"We were practicing against that play all week," Henry said. "Every day at practice, I was just hopping it. Then in the game, I just hopped it."
A little more than three minutes later, disaster struck New Brighton as Greco went down with the injury with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
New Brighton had a chance to get on the scoreboard in the second quarter after Jesse Sabol blocked an Aliquippa punt to give the Lions the ball at the Aliquippa 15. But New Brighton moved backward and Gavin Pritchard missed a 37-yard field goal.
Four plays later, Henry scored his third different way, running 60 yards for a touchdown.
Swanson ran 43 yards for a touchdown later in the half.
"Remember last year, Terry and Dravon hardly played together," Zmijanac said. "This year, we're trying to use them together. That's the only smart thing to do. They both can catch the ball and we're trying to find different ways to get them the ball."
Patrick Anderson caught a 30-yard TD pass from Fields on the final play of the half.
Fernando Glenn scored on a 2-yard run for the only scoring in the second half.
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published September 21, 2013 4:15 AM