Aliquippa's bid for perfection ends in imperfect finish

Aliquippa had been so impressive and dominant that the Quips were being called possibly one of the greatest teams in the school's illustrious history.

But what cost the Quips one of the prime spots in Aliquippa lore was their inability to finish -- both on drives and the season.

A few yards short in the red zone, and one win short of a perfect season. That sums up the Aliquippa story as the Quips were knocked off by Wyomissing, 17-14, in the PIAA Class AA championship Saturday before 5,530 fans at Hersheypark Stadium.

Wyomissing 17, Aliquippa 14

Wyomissing defeats Aliquippa 17-14 in the PIAA Class AA state championship game in Hershey. (Video by Andrew Rush; 12/15/2012)

The team that came in averaging 49 points a game, hadn't been held below 34 all season and had forced the mercy rule on 12 opponents, did a lot of things right against Wyomissing, a school located near Reading. Aliquippa had two 100-yard rushers, outgained Wyomissing by nearly 100 yards and had a seven-point lead at halftime. But there was no third PIAA title for the Quips.

"It's tough because we worked hard for this all year and we came up short," said Terry Swanson, an Aliquippa junior running back-defensive back. "It really gets to you, especially me."

Aliquippa (15-1) had four drives end inside the 20 without points. The Quips turned the ball over on downs at the Wyomissing 1 in the first quarter, the 7 in the second, the 20 in the third and the 19 in the fourth. On a few of those drives, Aliquippa was hurt by some key penalties. The Quips also were 1 of 9 on third-down conversions and 1 of 6 on fourth downs.

"You have to take advantage of your opportunities or this is what happens to you," Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said.

Wyomissing (16-0) came back from a 14-7 halftime deficit. You could say the difference was a 52-yard field goal by Jonah Bowman in the third quarter that set a PIAA championship record. Bowman bettered the 24-year-old mark by 7 yards.

His field goal made it 14-10 early in the third quarter, and it stayed that way until Mason Smith scored on a 36-yard run with 11:18 left in the game.

But maybe a bigger key than Bowman's field goal was a defensive stand by Wyomissing in the first quarter. Aliquippa took an 8-0 lead on its first possession (Dravon Henry's 1-yard run, Swanson's 2-point conversion), and it looked as if the Quips might be on the verge of a blowout when, on their second possession, they moved inside the Wyomissing 5. On third-and-goal from the 4, Swanson ran 1 yard.

Aliquippa doesn't have much of a kicking game, so Zmijanac went for the touchdown on fourth down, but Henry was stopped inches short of the goal line.

"You can point to a whole lot of points in the game, but, if they score on there, they're up two touchdowns, and we're in trouble probably," Wyomissing coach Bob Wolfrum said. "We were on our heels early. The first two times Aliquippa had the ball, they were just kicking us around all over the field. But we had the poise to comeback, gain some momentum and get back into the game."

After the defensive stand, Wyomissing responded with a nine-play, 99-yard scoring drive that ended with Smith's 13-yard touchdown run, even though it looked as if Smith dropped the ball before he got across the goal line. The extra-point kick made it 8-7 with 9:16 left in the second quarter, and the score gave the Spartans a boost of confidence.

Aliquippa outgained Wyomissing, 346-253. Swanson had 126 yards on 14 carries and Henry 123 on 22 attempts. Henry's second touchdown of the game came on a 10-yard run with 2:51 left in the half to give the Quips a 14-7 halftime lead.

Aliquippa's defense did a nice job on Alex Anzalone, Wyomissing's leading rusher, who was held to 41 yards on 16 carries. But Aliquippa had trouble with Wyomissing's counter plays, and Smith finished with 127 yards on 15 carries.

"I don't know what was happening on the short side of the field with those counter plays," Zmijanac said. "We couldn't stop them. We didn't play well enough in the second half on defense to really get into our offense. They held the ball for a long time."

Swanson said, "We were getting a little confused. I don't know why."

After Wyomissing took the lead, Aliquippa moved to the 9. On second down, quarterback Malik Shegog ran to the 1, but a penalty brought the ball back to the 16. One play after Shegog was sacked, Shaquere McBride got open down the middle of the field. But Shegog overthrew McBride, and Shegog was then stopped at the 19 on fourth down after a scramble.

"I'll look back on this season after I get home and relax a little bit," Zmijanac said. "It was a great season by a great bunch of kids. We didn't play well enough, and [Wyomissing] played well enough. That's the way sports works, and that's the chance you take when you come here."

Swanson, a junior, said, "We'll definitely be back."

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First Published December 16, 2012 5:00 AM


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