South Fayette again defeats Aliquippa to defend WPIAL Class AA title
South Fayette’s trio of three-play touchdown drives in the WPIAL Class AA championship bugged Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac, but the way the Lions burned long stretches of time with their spread offense maddened him almost as much.
With a mixture of explosive plays and methodical passing, top-seeded South Fayette (13-0) picked apart Class AA’s stingiest defense and defended its WPIAL crown with a 31-22 win over the No. 2 Quips (12-1), who entered the game leading the classification in scoring (50.4 ppg) and points allowed (11.5 ppg).
The Lions advance to the PIAA quarterfinals, where they will play District 9 champion Karns City at a site and time to be determined.
South Fayette senior Brett Brumbaugh, the WPIAL’s all-time passing leader, completed 24 of 35 attempts for 352 yards for three touchdowns one year after he threw for 315 yards and two TDs in 2013’s 34-28 win over the Quips.
“I knew they’re good and they’d be faster and more physical than anybody else we played, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t play right with them,” Brumbaugh said of the Quips. “It just showed that we have that mindset that, as an offense, we can’t be stopped.”
Junior Nick Ponikvar’s 87-yard touchdown catch swayed momentum in favor of South Fayette after Aliquippa, down 14-6 through two quarters, found hope to start the second half.
The Lions mishandled the second-half kickoff, a squib, and started their first drive of the third quarter at their own 3-yard line. But on the third play of the drive, Ponikvar caught a short out along the left sideline, slipped two tackles and raced down the field for a score.
“That’s a hard one to overcome,” Zmijanac said. “They deserved to win. I think the biggest part of what they did was they possessed the ball by passing it, and they took a lot of time off the clock. By the time we got it back, it was a lot harder to run the ball more.”
With just six plays in the first quarter, South Fayette charged out to a 14-0 lead.
Junior Hunter Hayes capped a three-play, 65-yard drive with a 46-yard touchdown run that put the Lions ahead.
Brumbaugh, who completed his first five pass attempts for 80 yards, connected with sophomore wide receiver Dan Trimbur on a 13-yard score to conclude South Fayette’s second possession.
Aliquippa attempted to pass four times in its first two possessions. Three incompletions and an interception were the result.
“I thought our first two possessions were terrible, both coaching and playing,” Zmijanac said. “They kind of set the tone.”
Inefficiency through the air forced the Quips to lean exclusively on their vaunted ground game. They rushed 39 times for 154 yards. Junior Kazeon Pugh finished with 24 carries for 111 yards.
“We weren’t executing the way we were supposed to in our game plan, and it came back to bite us,” senior quarterback Darrien Fields said. “We dug ourselves a hole, and we couldn’t get out of it.”
Aliquippa’s offense managed just one explosive scoring play, a 58-yard touchdown pass from Fields to senior Stephon McGinnis with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
That touchdown cut South Fayette’s lead to 28-14, but a clear solution to the South Fayette defense remained elusive for the Quips, who added a 2-yard touchdown run by McGinnis in the game’s final four minutes.
“We knew they couldn’t do anything else,” Lions senior linebacker J.J. Walker said. “We had a couple goal-line stands last year, and we knew we could do it again.”