Last Updated: Sun Nov 28, 2021 - 3:28AM
Throughout the entire season, Belle Vernon Area has shown a knack for hitting splash plays. The top-seeded Leopards were held scoreless until the fourth quarter on Saturday in the WPIAL Class 4A Championship at Heinz Field, however, as No. 2 seed Aliquippa used a dominant defensive performance to prevail 28-13.
With the victory, the Quips (11-1) claimed their 18th WPIAL crown, the most in district history. Conversely, the Leopards (10-1) suffered their only loss of the season, and were denied their second WPIAL title, and the first since 1995.
“To be honest with you, it’s devastating. We’ve been on this quest for two years,” said Belle Vernon Area head coach Matt Humbert, who also guided the Leopards to a runner-up finish in 2019. “Nothing should be taken away from that season, but we just didn’t get that one that we really wanted. It’s an adverse situation that hopefully these kids grow from.”
Aliquippa, which was playing in its 14th-consecutive title game, looked like a team accustomed to competing on the biggest stage in the opening minutes. The Quips took the opening kickoff, and marched 63 yards on eight plays, capped off by a 1-yard TD run by freshman running back Tiqwai Hayes.
The Leopards were unable to respond on their first drive, as sophomore running back Quinton Martin fumbled, which was recovered by Aliquippa in Leopards’ territory.
Although the Belle Vernon Area defense held strong, forcing a turnover on downs, the Quips posted another impressive drive on their third possession, spanning 69 yards and culminating with a 13-yard surge by Hayes to extend the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Martin provided a 75-yard return, and a penalty on Aliquippa advanced the ball to the 5-yard line. The Leopards were unable to reach the end zone, however, and Tyler Kovatch’s 22-yard field goal attempt missed wide.
Both defenses gained subsequent stops, and it appeared the Quips would carry a two-score lead into the locker room. However, the Quips called a timeout with five seconds left to attempt a Hail Mary. The decision proved fruitful, as Donovan Walker snagged the 38-yard pass from Quentin Goode in the end zone as time expired to extend the Quips’ edge to 21-0.
“That last touchdown before the half, that’s a hard one to swallow,” Humbert revealed.
The Leopards continued to sputter offensively in the third quarter, with a turnover on downs and a punt.
“They just stymied us at the line of scrimmage. They have those three big boys (defensive linemen), and everything runs through them,” Humbert said of the Quips’ defense, which allows just 10.0 points per game, the best mark in Class 4A.
Belle Vernon Area snapped the shutout in the fourth quarter, as QB Devin Whitlock found pay dirt on a 5-yard run.
Aliquippa wasted no time in responding, though, as Cyair Clark returned the subsequent kickoff 85 yards to restore the Quips’ three-score lead.
Whitlock, who surpassed 1,000 yards both passing and rushing for the season, continued to keep the Leopards’ hopes alive, though, as he engineered another scoring drive later in the quarter, punctuated by his 6-yard run.
The Aliquippa defense came up big once again, however, forcing a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions to seal the outcome.
“In the second half when we were behind battling back, we were able to get some of the pass game rolling and that’s where we hit some of the big splash plays, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough,” Humbert lamented.
Whitlock was 5-of-15 passing for 99 yards, while leading BVA with 69 yards rushing on 13 carries. Martin, meanwhile, was limited to just 28 yards rushing, although he led the Leopards with two catches for 55 yards. Collectively, Belle Vernon Area produced just 202 yards of offense.
For Aliquippa, Hayes notched a game-high 133 yards rushing, while Jon Tracy added 91 yards on the ground. Additionally, Goode connected on 5-of-9 passes for 67 yards.
While Aliquippa advances to the PIAA playoffs and will face District 4 Champion Jersey Shore next week, the season ends with heartbreak for the Leopards.
“I think our guys did a great job tonight, no matter the win or loss,” Whitlock said.
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