“Mr. High School Sports” – Special Report: WPIAL Class AA Football Championship
By Matt Popchock
The South Fayette Lions did indeed get back at the Aliquippa Quips for last year’s show-stopping quarterfinal defeat, capturing their first WPIAL football title since 1964. Little did they and their fans know there would be another game going on at Heinz Field while this story was unfolding.
While the Lions were beating the Quips, the Quips were busy beating themselves.
Senior quarterback Christian Brumbaugh connected on 12 of his 23 passes for 147 yards and two scores, including the game-winner, and his teammates took advantage of four Aliquippa fumbles as South Fayette (13-0) prevailed 19-6 over the Quips (12-1) in the WPIAL Class AA Championship Saturday afternoon, earning district gold for the program for the third time in history.
The WPIAL’s leading passer and his teammates now prepare for the equally pass-happy District 9 champions, the Brockway Rovers (12-0), led by PIAA career yardage king Derek Buganza, Friday night at 7:00 at West Allegheny’s Joe P. DiMichela Stadium.
For the second time since Aliquippa ousted South Fayette in the 2009 quarterfinals, the Quips, making an unprecedented 21st title game appearance, fell one win shy of their all-time best 14th title.
The first series of the game took just over three minutes off the clock and took Aliquippa deep into South Fayette territory, thanks to a diverse running attack. In a sign of things to come, what looked to be a fruitful opening possession for the Quips ended when that same productive backfield fumbled within the Lions’ red zone, and Eric Myers recovered. Their offense then heeded the wake-up call delivered by the defense.
After Brumbaugh notched his first completion of the day senior tailback Jeff Davis danced his way into the Aliquippa side of the field on a 33-yard gain. Although the Quips’ defense limited the Class AA rushing leader to 85 yards on 18 carries, that play set the stage for Brumbaugh finding Tyler Challingsworth open in man coverage. Challingsworth easily got around his defender and jogged into the end zone to complete a 38-yard touchdown, his seventh of the year. Haetaun Mathis blocked Tyler Yee’s extra point to keep it 6-0 South Fayette with 6:51 to go in the first.
Not surprisingly, the Quips answered back 3:44 later, as junior quarterback Mikal Hall fired a 23-yarder to Mathis. Mathis would lead all receivers with four catches that accounted for 70 of Hall’s passing yards. Hall, who finished a respectable 9-of-16 for 133 yards, deferred back to the running game at that point, and after a 14-yard run by Ben Cobb, freshman back Dravon Henry knifed into the end zone from three yards out.
Although Henry’s 13th touchdown of the year knotted the score, the Lions caught yet another break when fellow ninth-grader Marquis Jenkins pushed his extra point attempt wide.
Both teams had trouble moving the ball throughout an ugly second quarter, and Aliquippa may have killed itself while killing potential game-changing drives. Henry and Ben Cobb, who led all tailbacks with 107 yards on 18 runs, helped lead the Quips into the heart of South Fayette territory twice as the quarter wound down, but chop block and illegal shift penalties effectively ended one drive. A wild snap on third down ended another, and ultimately, produced a 6-6 halftime score.
After the Lions went three-and-out to begin the second half, Cobb gave the Quips more momentum with a nice run toward midfield. Once again, Aliquippa squandered that momentum, as Henry fumbled near the 50-yard mark and Kevin Hitlan recovered for South Fayette.
Brumbaugh immediately got going, marching the Lions to the Quips’ 28-yard line, at which point he zinged a pass to Zach Challingsworth that the sophomore receiver and brother of Tyler Challingsworth pulled in over a defender. Zach somehow managed to get one foot in bounds, and on the very next play, Brumbaugh found him again for a decidedly easier five-yard TD pass with 7:16 to play in the third. A two-point pass was picked off, but the eighth touchdown of the campaign by Zach Challingsworth and 39th TD toss of the season by Brumbaugh gave the Lions a 12-6 lead that would last.
Some help from the South Fayette defense, which turned in one of its best performances of the year, made the six-point lead stand. Following an interception thrown by Brumbaugh, Hall put the Quips in great shape, and just as Aliquippa knocked on the door, the Lions answered by forcing another Henry fumble that was recovered by Tyler Challingsworth. Early in the fourth quarter a bad punt gave the Quips new life at the South Fayette 29. Again, the defense forced Henry to cough up the ball, and this time it was Nick Guyan’s turn to pounce on it, keeping the Lions in front.
Later in the fourth, after three consecutive incompletions by Hall, South Fayette secured the victory. Davis carried the ball six times for 27 yards, and his effort, coupled with a personal foul against Aliquippa, put South Fayette’s offense in business. Brumbaugh converted a key third down with a nifty 12-yard keeper, and running back Trevor Fiorentini, who led the defense with 14 tackles, including 12 solo, kept the drive alive with a short run on fourth down. Fiorentini ended it and effectively ended Aliquippa’s season on a two-yard scoring plunge with 2:25 to go in the game.
Tyler Yee provided the final point for a team that had scored over 500 on the year. Ironically, this was the Lions’ lowest single-game output of 2010, but the gifted young leaders on Joe Rossi’s championship roster made sure it didn’t matter.
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For more of the latest news and views on and off the gridiron, be sure to check out the season finale of The Post-Gazette High School Football Show Presented by First Commonwealth Bank next Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!