PIAA Class AA Semifinal: Aliquippa challenged but not toppled
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Dravon Henry leaned over the fence surrounding the field at North Allegheny's Carl A. Newman Stadium Friday night and gave his mom a huge hug and a peck on the cheek.
Call it a Hershey kiss.
Henry and his Aliquippa teammates punched their ticket to the state final with a closer-than-expected 37-21 win against Richland in a PIAA Class AA semifinal game.
The Quips (15-0) will take on the winner of today's semifinal between Imhotep Charter (14-0) and Wyomissing (14-0) in the championship game next Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.
"This win is great, but we've got one more to win for us to be happy," said Henry, a standout junior who rushed for 222 yards and three scores on 30 carries.
It marks the fifth time Aliquippa has advanced to the PIAA championship. The Quips won titles in 1991 and 2003. Both of those teams were led by future NFL All-Pros -- Ty Law and Darrelle Revis.
It's yet to be seen if the 2012 Quips will win a state title or see any of their players achieve NFL stardom, but one thing is for sure -- this team is good.
But Aliquippa, which won its record 15th WPIAL championship two weeks ago, was dealt a stiff test by Richland, the District 6 champion. The 21 points and 343 yards of offense Richland (14-1) gained are the most the Quips have surrendered all season.
The Richland defense limited the high-powered Aliquippa offense to 15 yards in what was a scoreless first quarter.
"That was the toughest team we've played all year," Henry said. "That was the first time our first team had to play that late into the game."
Richland trailed, 23-13, after three quarters before Aliquippa flexed its muscles with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes to start the fourth quarter and was capped by a 3-yard Henry touchdown run to put the Quips ahead, 30-13.
On the second play of Richland's next possession, Matt Shaffer's pass was intercepted by Jeff Cassucio. Three plays later, Henry scored on a 27-yard run to put the game away.
"He's going to be a Division I football player," Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said of Henry. "That's how a Division I football player should play."
The Quips had another great night running the ball, rushing for 374 yards. They averaged 456 yards the past three games.
Terry Swanson, who has teamed with Henry to give the Quips a dynamic one-two punch at running back, rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, but left the game early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and did not return.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Aliquippa got on the scoreboard less than a minute into the second quarter when Swanson ran for an 18-yard touchdown and Malik Shegog added a two-point run to put them ahead, 8-0.
The Quips increased the lead to 16-0 when Henry scored on a 9-yard run later in the quarter, but Richland used some unusual formations -- most effectively, the "swinging gate" -- to hit for some big plays and score a touchdown to make it 16-6 with 1:54 left before halftime. But the Quips quickly responded, scoring on Shegog's 2-yard run with 27 seconds left before the half.
"That was a tough one," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.
Shaffer completed 14 of 22 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but threw three interceptions.
First Published December 8, 2012 12:00 am