Conner Beck's status for the WPIAL Class AA championship was in question after he didn't practice all week because of a hip flexor injury.
The night before the game, his coach wondered if his team still had a chance to win without one of its top playmakers.
Beck played, and his team needed every inch of him.
Beck stretched for the goal line and scored the winning touchdown on a controversial play in the closing minutes, helping South Fayette edge Aliquippa, 34-28, in a wildly-entertaining game Saturday at Heinz Field.
It was South Fayette's fourth WPIAL title and second in four years. The Lions also defeated Aliquippa in the 2010 final. South Fayette (13-0) advances to the PIAA playoffs and will take on Karns City (12-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Clarion University.
"To win two in four years means you have a good program," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said.
Aliquippa (12-1), which was playing in its sixth WPIAL final in a row, had been attempting to win its third consecutive title.
The game was filled with drama, none greater than what transpired in the late stages of the fourth quarter.
Aliquippa's Terry Swanson barreled up the middle for a 28-yard touchdown run with 4:01 left to give the Quips a 28-27 lead. Swanson's two-point rush attempt failed.
South Fayette took possession at its 37 and quarterback Brett Brumbaugh quickly moved the Lions down the field. He threw a 16-yard pass to Beck and 28-yard pass to Grant Fetchet to give South Fayette a first down at the Aliquippa 19.
After a pair of incompletions, Brumbaugh connected with Beck on the right side. Beck raced ahead and dove towards the goal line. Just as he stretched his arms out attempting to break the plane, Aliquippa's Dravon Henry thumped him and jarred the ball loose. An Aliquippa player fell on the ball, but by that time, the refereed had already signaled it a touchdown.
"From the Jumbotron, it looked like I hit it out [in time], and we lost. It came down to that play," Henry said.
Said Beck, "I can't explain it. I really didn't know [if it was a touchdown]. I knew I needed to make a play."
The touchdown gave South Fayette a 34-28 lead with 2:48 left. Aliquippa had two more possessions, but both ended with interceptions near midfield -- one hauled in by Roman Denson and the final one by Beck.
Brumbaugh completed 16 of 35 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Watson had six catches for 130 yards and a touchdown and Beck finished with five catches for 112 yards.
Aliquippa's prolific running back tandem fared well. Swanson rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Henry rushed for 68 yards.
After falling behind, 17-16, at the half and after a South Fayette field goal, Aliquippa took a 22-20 lead with 1:18 left in the third when Darrien Fields fired a pass to Patrick Anderson for a 9-yard touchdown.
On South Fayette's next offensive play, Hunter Hayes ran for 59 yards. A few plays later, J.J. Walker ran up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown to put South Fayette in front, 27-22.The Quips hurt themselves with penalties (9 for 51 yards) and their inability to convert on fourth downs (they were 1 of 6).
"We didn't get it done when we had to," said Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac. "They stopped us. We had our chances."
Said Rossi: "This team has done some special things. They were focused and they didn't want to lose this game."
First Published November 23, 2013 8:51 PM