It was as if time stood still and players froze. But Terry Swanson's ears kept working.
"People on our sideline were yelling 'run, run,' " Swanson said.
So he listened -- and didn't stop until he reached the end zone.
They will be talking about this chapter of the Beaver Falls-Aliquippa rivalry for a long time. Not just because it was a terrific game that thrilled a capacity crowd at Geneva College's Reeves Field, but because of how it was won. Did the whistle blow or not? In the end, Beaver Falls couldn't blow the whistle on Aliquippa's perfect season.
Swanson scored the winning touchdown on a controversial 58-yard run in the fourth quarter and Aliquippa nudged past Beaver Falls, 34-28, Friday night in a battle of the top two WPIAL Class AA teams.
The win puts No. 1 Aliquippa one win away from a class of elite teams. If Aliquippa (8-0 overall, 6-0 in conference) wins next week, it will become only the fourth team in WPIAL history to have a perfect record in four consecutive regular seasons. Braddock had six from 1954-59 and Woodland Hills four from 1999-2002.
But this perfect season might always be remembered for Swanson's run. With second-ranked Beaver Falls holding a 28-26 lead in this Midwestern Conference game, Aliquippa stopped Beaver Falls on a fourth-and-2 play at the Aliquippa 42. On the next play, Swanson, a senior running back, took a handoff and cut to the left sideline. After gaining about 15 yards, he looked to be pulled down by a Beaver Falls defender. An official threw a flag.
Just about everyone on the field stopped. All of a sudden, Swanson was up and running by himself down the sideline and into the end zone with 5:32 left in the game.
After the officials, led by referee John Skovran, conferred, the flag was picked up and no penalty called. But Swanson was given a touchdown. Darrien Fields hit Dravon Henry with a pass for the 2-point conversion, and Aliquippa went on to win.
Swanson said he never went down on the play, and the officials apparently agreed.
"I stiff-armed [the defender], and he brought me down on his stomach," Swanson said. "I knew I wasn't down. I was just like, 'I've got to get back up.' "
After the game, Beaver Falls coach Ryan Matsook was visibly upset about the call. He claimed one of the officials blew a whistle, and that's why everyone stopped.
"The fact is they scored the winning touchdown on an inadvertent whistle in which both teams stopped because the whistle was blown," Matsook said. "The whistle was blown, OK? It's a shame [officials] have to be involved in what was a great football game and they have to take away from either of these two teams."
When asked if the officials admitted to an inadvertent whistle, Matsook said, "One of them blew the whistle. They won't 'fess up to which one did, but one of them did."
Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said, "A couple of our coaches were screaming 'run' [to Swanson]. Truthfully, I couldn't tell whether he was down or not."
The officials were busy all game, calling 18 penalties (nine on each team). It slowed a game that saw Beaver Falls storm to a 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes by Dan Stratton -- 9 yards to Pete Lyons and 14 yards to Damian Rawl.
But Aliquippa tied the score, 14-14, at halftime. Fields threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jyier Turner and Swanson scored on a 34-yard run. Swanson finished with 169 yards on 13 carries and Henry added 68 yards on 10 carries.
Henry also threw a 39-yard halfback pass for a touchdown to Patrick Anderson to give Aliquippa a 20-14 lead in the third quarter. It was the sixth different way Henry was involved in a touchdown this year. But Beaver Falls tied it with 5:27 left in the third quarter on Kahlil Caracter's 22-yard touchdown run. Caracter finished with 114 yards on 20 carries and Rawl led Beaver Falls with 117 yards on 26 attempts.
Beaver Falls took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when Stratton hit tight end Sage Curry with a 28-yard scoring strike. Curry also caught a pass from Stratton for the 2-point conversion to make it 28-20. Henry's 22-yard touchdown run made it 28-26 with 9:34 left. Four minutes later, Swanson became the hero.
"I think we opened some eyes [Friday night] that we're a good football team, too," Matsook said. "If they're the No. 1 team, then we're only a touchdown off that."
A controversial touchdown.hsfootball
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 October 18, 2013 8:09 PM