West Xtra: Quips left hurting, stunned by loss

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The Aliquippa locker room was unusually quiet Saturday evening, this after the Quips lost to South Fayette in the WPIAL Class AA championship game at Heinz Field.

It's not often one of the WPIAL's most storied programs loses a game, particularly one of great magnitude. But that's what happened on a cold, blustery day on the North Shore.

Aliquippa had been playing in its sixth consecutive WPIAL title game -- only the second team to ever accomplish the feat. The Quips were attempting to win their third consecutive title, which would have made them the first Class AA team to do that since the late 1950s.

Instead ... Final score: South Fayette 34, Aliquippa 28.

"They played as hard as they could. We coached as hard as we could," Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said afterward.

Zmijanac said he relayed the following message to his players: "If losing a football game is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you lived a great life."

It was yet another great season for Aliquippa, which finished 12-1. The Quips just wish they could have extended their season a few more weeks.

Aliquippa and South Fayette engaged in a thriller, a game that was by far the most action-packed of the four WPIAL championship contests.

The Quips fought hard and at times appeared like they would be the team that exited with a victory. With his team trailing, 20-16, late in the third quarter, Aliquippa's Darrien Fields connected with Patrick Anderson for a 9-yard touchdown pass to put the Quips in front, 22-20.

South Fayette regained the lead early in the fourth quarter, but Terry Swanson took a handoff and raced 29 yards for a touchdown to put Aliquippa ahead, 28-27, with just 4:01 left.

South Fayette countered with the winning touchdown drive, however, that was capped by Brett Brumbaugh's 19-yard scoring pass to Conner Beck with 2:48 left. Aliquippa's Dravon Henry jarred the ball loose just as Beck reached the ball across the goal line and a Quips player recovered what some thought was a fumble, but the officials awarded South Fayette a touchdown.

Aliquippa had two more possessions, but both ended with interceptions.

Swanson and Henry -- the only pair of classmates in WPIAL history to rush for 4,000 yards each -- combined to run for 234 yards. But only 62 of those yards came in the second half, as the South Fayette defense clamped down and kept the duo in check.

"The key was not to look at Dravon or Terry's back," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. "We knew if we could just withstand and make them drive and get some stops [we'd be OK]. We bent, but we didn't break."

Swanson finished with 166 yards and three touchdowns. Henry chipped in 68 yards.

Fields completed 8 of 17 passes for 149 yards. Anderson had a terrific game, hauling in four passes for 122 yards. Anderson's sensational 34-yard catch on a third-down play keyed the drive that resulted in Swanson's final touchdown.

Henry, one of the top seniors in the state, took the loss particularly hard. He had been a mainstay in the Aliquippa lineup since his freshman season and had played a huge role in dozens of wins.

Said Henry: "My four years here ... I've been playing since my freshman year. Words can't even explain."

Henry paused and broke into tears.

He then said: "It hurt, man. I grew up here, man. It just hurts so much. I've been here since my freshman year. I learned so much. I just hate that it had to end so early. But it's alright though because I've got bigger plans for me. I'm going off to college and hopefully I'll do something there."

An excellent senior class that also included impact players Swanson, Jaleel Fields and Jyier Turner was one of Aliquippa's best in recent memory.

Zmijanac said the group's legacy will consist of much more than what they accomplished on the field.

Said Zmijanac: "Their character, their work ethic, their attitude and their being fine young men ... That's what it will mean to me."

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