PIAA Class AA Championship: Aliquippa vs. Wyomissing
Aliquippa's Terry Swanson has rushed for 1,420 yards on 126 attempts this season and leads the Quips with 11.3 yards per carry.
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The Aliquippa football team's 2012 season has been one defined by success and, sometimes, outright domination.
But even with an unblemished record, overwhelming scores and impressive statistics, the Quips' resume is still incomplete.
By Saturday afternoon, though, that may no longer be the case.
The undefeated, largely yet-to-be-tested Quips (15-0) will travel east to Hershey to face Wyomissing in the PIAA Class AA championship game at noon Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, with a chance to capture the school's first state football title since 2003 on the line for Aliquippa.
Even at a school with a football program as storied as Aliquippa's, this season has been a benchmark one.
The Quips finished off their third consecutive undefeated regular season and second consecutive WPIAL title in 2012, but this year's squad accomplished that feat in far more convincing fashion. Aliquippa has averaged 49.7 points per game while giving up just 5.7 per game.
Compared to their average margins of victory of 23.1 and 29 in 2010 and 2011, respectively, the Quips have outscored teams by an average of 44 points per game this season. Furthermore, six of their games were shutouts and just once during the regular season was "the mercy rule" (ahead by at least 35 points during the second half) not enforced.
Rather unbelievably, this Aliquippa team may not even yet be a finished product as several of the team's top players -- running backs Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry, along with standout lineman Jaleel Fields -- are just juniors.
For the Spartans (15-0), a team that has had little trouble winning all of its games this season, are the Quips their toughest challenge yet?
"By a long shot, no doubt," Wyomissing coach Bob Wolfrum said.
Aliquippa is coming off likely its most difficult game of the season, a 37-21 victory against Richland last Friday in the PIAA semifinals, a game in which the Quips led by only 10 points entering the fourth quarter. In the victory, they gave up season highs in points (21) and yards allowed (343).
As should be expected in a state championship at any level, the challenge will only get greater this week with Wyomissing. In their 15 wins this season, the Spartans scored an average of 40.8 points per game while winning by an average of 31.5 points per game.
Last week, they defeated an Imhotep Charter team that many saw as the biggest barrier between Aliquippa and a championship.
Wyomissing also happens to feature one of the best players in the state on its roster. Alex Anzalone is rated as one of the top 50 players in the country by Rivals.com and has committed to play at Notre Dame.
Recruited as a linebacker by the Fighting Irish, Anzalone, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior, is also a force on the offensive end as a fullback in the Spartans' wing-T offense. Last week, he rushed for 148 yards on 18 carries.
For Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac and his team, their opponent has a lot of impressive traits.
"They're well-disciplined and organized and they have many really solid athletes," Zmijanac said.
The Quips also dodged the proverbial bullet of being without Swanson, who sustained an ankle injury against Richland but said that he is "good to play" in the championship game.
With or without Swanson, this Aliquippa squad has a chance to go down as one of the school's all-time great teams. Its two state championship teams, in 1991 and 2003, featured future NFL stars in Ty Law and Darrelle Revis, respectively. If the current crop of Quips hopes to join such esteemed company, it has one more obstacle to hurdle.
"These guys [at Aliquippa] have been in the playoffs year in and year out," Wolfrum said. "You get to know you can't take anybody lightly no matter whom you're playing. I can't expect that they'll take us lightly and we certainly won't be taking them lightly."
First Published December 14, 2012 12:00 am