WPIAL 4A Championship Preview: Belle Vernon vs. Aliquippa

Leopards trying to win their first district title since 1995 on Saturday at Heinz Field

Fri Nov 26, 2021 - 3:18PM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Belle Vernon's last WPIAL championship came in 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium.Belle Vernon's last WPIAL championship came in 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Last Updated: Fri Nov 26, 2021 - 3:48PM

WPIAL Class 4A Championship: #2 Aliquippa Quips (10-1, 5-0 Parkway Conference) vs #1 Belle Vernon Area Leopards (10-0, 6-0 Big Eight Conference)

Saturday, 3 p.m. at Heinz Field

Through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs, Belle Vernon Area defeated two historic programs - New Castle and Thomas Jefferson - which have combined for 21 WPIAL titles and more than 1,200 wins.

However, arguably the most historic program in WPIAL history stands between the Leopards and a district title, as Aliquippa boasts 754 wins and a record 17 WPIAL championships. Perhaps more impressively, the Quips will play in their 14th-consecutive title game, despite playing up in classification.

Belle Vernon Area’s lone WPIAL title came in 1995, but the Leopards have been rewriting history throughout this season. An undefeated regular season campaign included marquee conference victories against Thomas Jefferson and McKeesport Area, as well as a decisive win against 5A finalist Penn-Trafford. After earning a first-round bye, the Leopards bested the Red Hurricane 45-20, and then ousted TJ for the second time this season with a 21-7 win in the semifinals last Friday.

“There’s been no shortage of us playing tough competition this year,” said Belle Vernon Area head coach Matt Humbert. “I know that the kids won’t be rattled in the game at the stadium with the yellow seats because I feel like every other week we’re playing in a big, meaningful game.”

In the win against the Jaguars, quarterback Devin Whitlock provided a pair of touchdown runs in the first quarter, while Quinton Martin sealed the outcome with a 19-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter. Whitlock rushed 20 times for 146 yards and two scores, and he also passed for 50 yards. Martin carried seven times for 39 yards and a TD, and he caught two passes for 49 yards.

Although the Leopards scored a season-low 21 points in the win, the defense held Thomas Jefferson scoreless until the final minute of regulation. In their two previous playoff tilts, the Jaguars combined to score 83 points.

“It was gratifying to have an overall team win on Friday, and really nice for our defense to truly rise to the occasion,” Humbert stated. “We wanted to be aggressive, and the kids really kind of sold out on that.”

In the process, the Leopards exorcised a demon, as the Jaguars defeated them in the playoffs in both 2017 and 2019, with the latter taking place in the championship game at Heinz Field.

Aliquippa’s semifinals victory required extra time, as the Quips edged McKeesport Area 27-21 in double overtime. The Quips trailed 14-0 in the second quarter, but freshman running back Tiqwai Hayes helped spark the comeback, as he rushed 44 times for 229 yards and three scores. Jayce Williams provided the winning score, as he caught a 9-yard pass from Quentin Goode in overtime. Goode finished 13-of-22 for 99 yards, with a TD and two interceptions. Donovan Walker, Cyair Clark, and Tajier Thornton each caught four passes in the victory.

“Their kids just never quit – they never give up,” Humbert said of the Quips. “I think that’s just a common mantra within that program’s history.”

For the season, BVA has been led by Whitlock, who has completed 64-of-96 passes for 1,023 yards, with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s been even more dangerous as a runner, though, as Whitlock has rushed 109 times for 1,189 yards, and has scored 25 total touchdowns. Martin, a sophomore, has amassed 902 yards on 80 carries, has caught 10 passes for 164 yards, and has produced 16 total scores. Evan Pohlet (17 receptions, 299 yards) and Chase Ruokonen (15 receptions, 233 yards) are the top receivers, while Jake Gedekoh (54 carries, 501 yards) has also proven to be a key contributor. The Leopards have averaged 40.5 points per game.

The Quips’ defense has been suffocating throughout 2021, however, posting four shutouts and permitting an average of just 9.7 points per game, the best mark in Class 4A.

“They got three guys on the D line that are just space eaters. Aggressive linebacker play. Aggressive defensive back play. And three guys up front that really kind of hunker things down,” Humbert said of Aliquippa. “I just think that we gotta be able to move the ball early and quickly. We gotta be able to take what they give us and keep moving.”

Offensively, Hayes has emerged as a star for Aliquippa, as he has compiled 1,376 yards rushing on 163 attempts, and has scored 16 TDs. First-year starter at QB Quentin Goode has been impressive, as well, as he’s connected on 91-of-157 passes for 1,529 yards, with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. Goode’s top targets have been Clark, who has accumulated 26 receptions for 513 yards, and Thornton, who has 22 catches for 392 yards. The Quips have scored 35 or more points nine times this season under the guidance of head coach Mike Warfield.

“The challenge that Aliquippa poses offensively is they’re just so balanced,” Humbert noted.

Aliquippa has won all three previous meetings between the schools, including a 33-25 victory last year in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals.