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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – A New Star Is Born In Beaver Falls

By Matt Popchock
Terry Swanson

Aliquippa tailback Terry Swanson runs against Washington in last year’s WPIAL Class AA Final. (File Photo: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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BEAVER FALLS, Pa. (93-7 THE FAN) — On any other great team, specifically those not as deep as defending WPIAL Class AA champion Aliquippa (6-0, 8-0), senior running back Terry Swanson would be a huge star.

After what he did to previously unbeaten Beaver Falls (6-1, 7-1) on senior night at Reeves Stadium Friday night, he should be.

Wherever the Quips play, the main attraction is featured back Dravon Henry. Rated the top athlete in Pennsylvania by 247Sports, he is one of the most agile rushers in the region, and he doesn’t need to turn heads to make an impact at defensive back, where Pitt, WVU, Alabama, Ohio State, and Louisville want him.

He did his part with 68 yards, a touchdown, and a 39-yard halfback option pass that went for another score. He’s done his part off the field, too, leading efforts to make a longtime female friend and cerebral palsy victim the center of the school’s recent homecoming festivities. He’s a fantastic public face for that program.

But it was Swanson, not Henry, who stole the spotlight in a critical Week 8 contest, and also stole what might have been a defining victory from the Tigers.

On just 13 carries Swanson amassed 169 yards, and his last attempt of the night is the one that will be talked about by both schools for a very long time.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Aliquippa stopped Damian Rawl on 4th and 2 at its own 42, giving itself a chance to erase a Beaver Falls lead it had already trimmed to two points. Swanson took a handoff from Darrien Fields, took off to his left for a first down and more, and took a face-mask penalty from Marcus Cleckley along the Aliquippa sideline.

Everybody in the stadium thought he was down.

Everybody.

Everybody except Swanson.

While implored by some of his teammates, he rolled off the prone defender, and, much to even his own disbelief, jogged into the end zone, completely by his lonesome, to complete a 58-yard touchdown, his second score of the night.

Despite drawing the understandable ire of Beaver Falls head coach Ryan Matsook, referee John Skovran decided the touchdown would stand.

Should it have? Check out these highlights from KDKA-TV and decide for yourself.

To further aid your decision, we submit the following footage, with a very big hat tip to Mr. Gordon Zernich of Aliquippa, which gives us a bit of a closer look:

Zernich also gives us this photo, a freeze-frame from the above video:

Aliquippa at Beaver Falls

It is entirely possible Swanson’s left knee touched the turf without an official taking notice. After all, as Matsook later told the Post-Gazette’s Mike White, he heard an anonymous whistle that was ignored.

It is also entirely possible the left leg buckled without the knee touching the ground, and Swanson used his right hand to keep his balance.

It is also entirely possible play should have ceased whether the runner was down or not. Matsook told the Post-Gazette’s Mike White he heard a lone, anonymous whistle after Cleckley made contact. Unfortunately for his sake, whether said whistle was inadvertent or not, nobody else did.

In any event, Swanson, on Friday, proved himself to be every bit the lethal–and, to the credit of head coach Mike Zmijanac, cerebral–offensive weapon as Henry. He’s proved it time and again, and hopefully, this time, recruiters will remember it.

The Quips have come up painfully short in their last two quests to become state champions. If the third time does prove to be the charm, this game-winning touchdown, which allowed Aliquippa to retain its Midwestern Conference title and probably secure the top Class AA playoff seed, will be remembered not only as one of the key plays of the season, but as one of the more pivotal plays in program history.

This one will sting Beaver Falls, and understandably so. In an effort to become the first conference opponent to beat the Quips since defeating them at The Pit on a Thursday night in 2009, the Tigers showed mettle by hanging with one of the best teams in Pennsylvania.

However, even after Swanson’s controversial touchdown, the Quips had to show that much more mettle, and they did. Two sacks by Keith Olden made the score stand up when Beaver Falls drove inside Aliquippa territory with under two minutes to play and still a sporting chance to pull off the upset.

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a team impose its will offensively on Aliquippa to the point of having two 100-yard rushers, Damian Rawl and Kalil Caracter, in the same game. Beaver Falls will be a very dangerous postseason team, and there is a very realistic chance it will get a shot at revenge at Heinz Field, if not sooner.

If that rematch does come to pass, Matsook had better remember to keep an eye on Terry Swanson.

After Friday’s game, he has racked up 887 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to Henry’s 805 yards and 18 total TD’s. Together they are just the third pair of teammates in the PIAA to run for over 3,000 career yards apiece since 2009.

Swanson, ranked No. 40 state-wide as a running back by 247Sports, does not have the same gaudy Division I offers as his backfield buddy. Akron, Ohio, Temple, and FCS member James Madison are among the ones he’s collected, while Arkansas has also recruited him.

But on a big stage, there’s always room for more than one great talent, and Terry Swanson has earned his own spotlight.

(Contact me at mpopchock@kdka.com and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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