West Xtra: Talented Quips reload their backfield

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Replacing skill-position players never seems to be a concern for Aliquippa's football team.

Year after year, the Quips usually rely on big-time playmakers to help ignite their typically electric offense.

This season should be no different.

Despite graduating two of the WPIAL's top players from last season in running backs Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry, both Division I recruits, Aliquippa is expected to turn a page and now rely on a fresh pair of stars in Darrien Fields and Kaezon Pugh.

Fields, a 5-foot-9, 151-pound senior, returns as the Quips' starting quarterback.

"He's a starter who won a lot of games for us last season," longtime Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. "He expects to win. He knows our offense and what we expect to do.

"He accepts challenges. He also plays baseball and basketball, so he's a competitor. He's also a very good student."

Fields took over the starting quarterback duties last season. After attempting just five passes as a sophomore behind then-starter Malik Shegog, Fields broke out as a junior last season when he completed 74 of 111 pass attempts for 1,254 yards and 17 touchdowns as Aliquippa advanced to the WPIAL Class AA championship game before losing to South Fayette.

"Darrien understands what we're trying to do and always is in tune with me," Zmijanac said "He knows the idea of our offense and understands it very well.

"He follows our game plan and does everything right as a leader."

Pugh, a 6-0, 200-pound junior running back, played behind both Swanson and Henry since his freshman year, and already has received Division I scholarship offers from Pitt and West Virginia.

"We're really going to find out about him this year," Zmijanac said. "He hasn't played that much playing behind those two guys, so this is going to be his opportunity to show us what he can do.

"Everyone is different and everyone has a different style and mentality. We hope he can learn to get it done and what it takes to become a big-time player."

Swanson and Henry carried the workload out of the Quips backfield the past two seasons. Last year, the tandem combined for close to 3,000 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns.

As a freshman, Pugh averaged 9.8 yards a carry and rushed for 518 yards and six touchdowns on 53 touches. Last year, he had 51 carries and ran for 389 yards (7.6 yards per carry) and nine scores.

"Kaezon just needs to do what we've been doing here," Zmijanac said. "He needs to take care of the ball and pay attention to his surroundings with each play."

Traditionally, however, Aliquippa has never been a team led by just one or two players. The Quips also return a handful of other starters on both sides of the ball, including senior wide receiver Patrick Anderson and junior running back DiMontae Bronaugh.

Anderson averaged 18 yards a reception as a junior and had 20 catches for 359 yards. He also scored seven touchdowns last season. Bronaugh, who transferred from Hopewell, led the Vikings in rushing last year with 148 carries for 868 yards and eight touchdowns.

The perennial-powerhouse Quips, who compete "up" in Class AA even though they qualify as a Class A program enrollment-wise, are coming off their fourth consecutive Midwestern Athletic Conference title and finished 12-1 last season.

Aliquippa, which has not lost a conference game and owns a 53-4 overall record since 2009, has made six consecutive trips to the WPIAL title game at Heinz Field.

The Quips enter this season listed as the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked team in Class AA behind South Fayette and have captured seven Class AA crowns since 1991.

Aliquippa opens its regular season schedule on the road tomorrow night at Mohawk. The MAC matchup is slated to kickoff at 7 p.m. in Bessemer, Lawrence County.

"We better be ready," Zmijanac said. "When you think about it, with two-a-days and summer camp, half of our practices for the season will be over at the start of the season.

"We better be ready because it's getting late. You have this time to put together your new team and organize."

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