2013 WPIAL Class AA football championship preview


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In a rematch of the 2010 championship game, Aliquippa and South Fayette will meet Saturday for the WPIAL Class AA crown.

To the coaches, the game three years ago might as well be ancient history. But South Fayette's 19-6 victory still resonates with some players.

South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, an eighth grader at the time, served as a ball boy and watched from the sidelines at Heinz Field that day while his older brother, Christian, led his team to the title as a senior. Brett got to be in the locker room before the game and learned from watching the Lions take the title.

"I got to see everything and experience it all," Brett Brumbaugh said. "I just remember going out, taking everything in, seeing the venue and seeing how they preformed. They didn't come out with any fear. They weren't in awe of Heinz Field."

Brumbaugh's seat may have been the best any of his current teammates had for that game. All of South Fayette's starters from 2010 have graduated. For Aliquippa though, three starters that day were freshmen who are now seniors.

But 2010 isn't the memory they'll likely be thinking of. Aliquippa rebounded with championships in 2011 and 2012 and looks to make it three consecutive titles Saturday. This is the sixth championship game appearance in a row for Aliquippa (3-2 since 2008), matching a record held by Thomas Jefferson (2003-08).

"It never gets old," Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. "It's a thrill every time we [get to a championship game]."

This matchup features the top two scoring offenses in the WPIAL. South Fayette averages 47.0 points per game. Aliquippa's 57-14 semifinal win against Beaver -- the largest margin of victory ever in a WPIAL semifinal game -- helped lift its average to 47.3 per game.

But South Fayette owns the WPIAL's top defense, which conceded just 5.0 points per game (Aliquippa's defense is tied for eighth at 10.3). The key for another good performance Saturday, according to Lions coach Joe Rossi, is to stop Aliquippa's good plays before they become great ones.

"We just want to make sure we don't give up the home run," Rossi said. "That's the thing that's tough against these guys. They hit so many home run balls with Swanson and Henry and some of the receivers they have. Their running game is great."

Aliquippa's Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry have both run for more than 4,000 career yards -- in fact, Henry has surpassed 5,000. Taking away the home run is difficult when they average a ground-rule double: Swanson has 1,538 yards this season on 118 rushes, good for 13.0 yards per carry, and Henry has 1,174 yards on 80 runs, averaging 14.7 yards per carry.

Brumbaugh, a junior, just wants his first. He said he would've given himself a "B+" for his semifinal performance against Beaver Falls. He'll need his "A" game Saturday.

"We have to play our best game. These kids are for real," Brumbaugh said. "We can't buy into the hype, we just have to stay focused and stay grounded."

Aliquippa's "TD Express" -- Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry. They usually don't line up in the backfield at the same time, but are the only classmate duo in WPIAL history to each put up 4,000 yards rushing. South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh is second in the district with 2,781 passing yards. On defense, Conner Beck has been a standout safety for the Lions.

ONES TO WATCH

Aliquippa's "TD Express" -- Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry. They usually don't line up in the backfield at the same time, but are the only classmate duo in WPIAL history to each put up 4,000 yards rushing. South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh is second in the district with 2,781 passing yards. On defense, Conner Beck has been a standout safety for the Lions.

COACHES

South Fayette coach Joe Rossi beat Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac in the 2010 championship game, winning 19-6, but Zmijanac's team rebounded with titles each of the past two seasons. Zmijanac is the winningest coach in Aliquippa history at 188-28 (.870 percentage). He is a graduate of Aliquippa and used to be the basketball coach. Rossi coached Riverview for five seasons before coming to South Fayette.

CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

Aliquippa is synonymous with championships. The Quips have won a WPIAL record 15 titles and can extend that mark tomorrow. The last year the Class AA championship game didn't feature Aliquippa was 2007. Tomorrow will mark the school's sixth consecutive championship appearance, which ties the record set by Thomas Jefferson from 2003-08. South Fayette won titles in 2010, 1964 and 1936.

DO YOU REMEMBER?

This is the 25th anniversary of one of Aliquippa's most dominant teams. The 1988 Quips went undefeated through the WPIAL season and crushed Blackhawk, 36-7, in the Class AAA title game at Three Rivers Stadium. The team had a handful of seniors who went on to Division I colleges, including linebacker-offensive lineman Sean Gilbert, who went on to play at Pitt and the NFL. Aliquippa finished 14-1, losing to Berwick in the PIAA title game.

 


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