By Matt Popchock
A goal-line stand and a last-minute turnover allowed Tyrone (14-1) of District 6 to edge WPIAL champion Aliquippa 20-19 in the PIAA Class AA Semifinals at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium Saturday afternoon.
In next Saturday afternoon’s title game the Golden Eagles will face Lancaster Catholic, which upended defending state champion Philadelphia West Catholic 23-20 earlier today.
Trailing 20-13 in the fourth quarter, Mike Zmijanac rolled the dice on 4th-and-2 and shot a lucky seven that, unfortunately for Aliquippa, turned out to be worth only six.
Sophomore sensation Dravon Henry burst through the middle for a 60-yard touchdown with 5:17 to go. On the ensuing two-point attempt, despite the pleading of fellow running back Terry Swanson, officials deemed he was gang-tackled just short of the goal line.
Aliquippa was still alive after intercepting Akron recruit Steve Franco with time ticking away, but Franco, from his defensive back spot, redeemed himself with a pickoff moments later.
Still, it looked like the Quips would get one last shot near midfield with 53 seconds remaining until Joseph Gearhart recovered a punt fumbled by Jyier Turner to secure the win.
As in recent playoff losses, Aliquippa seemed to be its own worst enemy with five turnovers, including that fatal one, which was Gearhart’s second recovery of the day.
Each unit played an integral role in getting their team on the board, as the offenses sputtered to a 7-7 halftime tie. Charles Wilson-Adams intercepted a Mikal Hall pass 21 yards to the house with 2:44 left in the first quarter, and Aliquippa answered with a two-yard run by Henry with 8:52 left in the second. That play immediately followed a near pick-six by Henry himself.
Aliquippa took a 13-7 lead early in the second half thanks to a nicely done 54-yard catch-and-run from Hall to Hassahn Thompson. After missing two field goals in the second half, Tyrone finally broke through and tied the game less than two minutes later on a goal-line sneak by Franco set up by a fourth-down conversion.
As was the case on the Quips’ previous drive, the extra point failed, but kicker J.D. Dorminy came through in the clutch by hitting Franco for the go-ahead TD on an eight-yard trick pass, then converting the all-important P.A.T. midway through the fourth quarter.
Tyrone is going for its first PIAA championship since 1999. Aliquippa has not won one since 2003.
(Special thanks to Sam Werner of the Post-Gazette and Chris Harlan of the Tribune-Review for their contributions to this post.)
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)