WEXFORD (93-7 THE FAN) — It was slippy, it was sloppy, it was icky, and it was yucky at North Allegheny High School Friday night. Oh, and by the way, it rained, too.
Although they did not deliver their most stylistically sound pre-monsoon effort, the Quips were so physically sound the only rain that mattered was the kind even Forrest Gump overlooked: Hershey’s Kisses.
Junior tailback and D-1 prospect Dravon Henry (who ran like a different Forrest) carried for three touchdowns in a gritty 37-21 win over Richland (14-1), the District 6 champion, at Newman Stadium to carry Aliquippa (15-0) to the PIAA Class AA Football Final for the fifth time in program history. It will play for its first state crown since 2003 next Saturday at noon.
“It’s not explainable, even after everything I imagined. It feels great,” senior quarterback Malik Shegog crowed.
The game ended with fans affectionately showering the victors on the near sideline with tiny candies, though it began with a scoreless deadlock after one quarter and continued into an eerie reminder of last year’s semifinal loss to Tyrone, in which turnovers buried Aliquippa.
Henry and backfield buddy Terry Swanson didn’t let it happen again, nor did Shegog, despite losing two fumbles, including one deep in Rams territory in the third quarter that led to Richland’s last meaningful points.
Swanson broke the tie with an 18-yard run set up by Henry’s 55-yard outburst, and Shegog made a gutsy run off right tackle on 4th-and-10 to set up his own short-range score, which gave the Quips a 23-6 lead right before halftime.
With Swanson injured late, Henry deserves that much more credit, but was in no hurry to take it.
“Our offensive line did it all,” said Henry, who had 107 yards in the first half alone, and 222 in total. “I just followed the blocks and went. Those dudes up front, they work their butts off in practice, so I’ve got to give all the props to them.”
Following a WPIAL Championship blowout of Washington at Heinz Field that featured over 500 team rushing yards by the Quips, head coach Mike Zmijanac said it was all about attrition. It’s now abundantly clear his offense is buying into that message.
“It starts off with our center, Nayo Seaburn, who yells out the defense, then the blocking scheme. He’s amazing. Then we’ve got D.J. Sims and Jaleel Fields, can’t say enough about them. On the left, we’ve got Malik Akins, Emanuel Williams, and Malcolm Fraser,” Shegog said. “They’re dominant all across. They come out with power…so Dra’ and Terry can run.”
Through stinging rain, big old fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and rain that seemed to come up from underneath, P.F.C. Henry marched his troops toward Hershey Park Stadium, and the field general’s forecast calls for more chocolate rain.
“Just run the ball, and follow the big fellas up front. That’s what we did,” Henry said. “We were dedicated in the off-season, and now we’ve got to finish it.”
“Right now, I’m living in the moment,” Shegog said with a smile. “I grew up with these boys, and we’ve always talked about how we were going to win states our senior year. But we can’t look at it as states. We’ve got to treat it as just another game. We’ve got to go out and execute.”
In other words: run, Dravon, run.
And block, Aliquippa, block.
OTHER HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTES:
*Aliquippa will play either District 3 champion Wyomissing or Philadelphia Public League power Imhotep Charter in the championship game. Those teams meet at 1:00 P.M. Saturday at Germantown High School.
Imhotep features a dangerous ground attack not unlike Aliquippa’s, led by seniors David Williams and Eerin Young, both 1,000-yard rushers.
*The longest high school football winning streak in America now stands at 62 games. Clairton defeated District 9 champion Port Allegany, 44-12, at Deer Lakes High School. Potential Pitt recruit Tyler Boyd contributed 104 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears meet Dunmore of District 2 next Friday at 1:00 trying to become the first WPIAL team ever to win four straight PIAA titles.
*Hey, George, remember these guys?
The Manatee Hurricanes, the No. 1 team in the country per MaxPreps’ Xcellent25 (human-based) poll, were upset by St. Thomas Aquinas of Ft. Lauderdale, 35-18, in the Florida 7A state playoffs Friday night.
Manatee, a longtime football powerhouse based in Bradenton, defeated Woodland Hills two years ago in one of four “Rally At The Wolvarena” season-opening games.
The relevance, you ask? It’ll potentially mean a bump up in the national pecking order for North Allegheny, which goes for its second state final berth in three seasons against Wilson of District 3 at 3 P.M. at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
N.A. enters the weekend the No. 1 team in the state, according to MaxPreps, No. 5 in its Midwest Regional rankings, and No. 19 in the Xcellent25, not to mention No. 21 in its Freeman (computer-based) Rankings.
The Bulldogs will be a tough test defensively, but the Tigers could have a big day if quarterback Mack Leftwich gets into a rhythm. He has 17 TD passes in postseason play, with multiple touchdowns in each playoff win, to give him 40 in all as a senior.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)