WPIAL final wins over Aliquippa haven’t changed South Fayette’s underdog mentality
Even when recent history favors his program, South Fayette coach Joe Rossi believes the narrative of the WPIAL Class AA football championship never changes when Aliquippa is involved.
“We feel like the underdog because of what they’ve done, and them always being there,” Rossi said. “Against Aliquippa, you always do.”
Wins against the Quips in the 2013 and 2010 finals, the teams’ last two meetings, suggest South Fayette doesn’t quake in the presence of the Class AA powerhouse. The defending PIAA champion and No. 1 seed Lions (12-0) understand there’s no way to avoid the long shadow cast by the history of No. 2 Aliquippa (12-0), a 15-time WPIAL champion with titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012 and seven straight appearances at Heinz Field.
“We always want to challenge ourselves and play the best team in Class AA,” junior running back/defensive back Hunter Hayes said of Friday’s 5 p.m. matchup at Heinz Field. “It’s going to be fun and be a dog fight until the end.”
Hayes filled a fairly minor role in the Lions’ 34-28 win over the Quips a season ago. Conner Beck left Heinz Field the hero in 2013, as the then-senior snagged a 19-yard pass that decided the game and also had a late interception to help clinch the win.
This time around, Hayes will shape the outcome to a considerable degree. He leads the Lions in rushing with 172 carries for 1,280 yards and 24 TDs, and he also starts at safety.
“I feel pretty ready for it, and I think we all are on this team,” Hayes said. “We want to get back to Hershey and repeat.”
Hayes’ success on the ground eases the burden on senior Brett Brumbaugh, the WPIAL’s all-time leader in passing yards.
The defense, anchored by senior middle linebacker J.J. Walker, allows 12.6 ppg — only Aliquippa’s 11.5 is better.
“Everyone thought this was going to be the way it was, and for a change, it proved most of the people out there that don’t know much right,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said.
Aliquippa, to no one’s surprise, effectively replaced a pair or star running backs. After waving goodbye to Dravon Henry (West Virginia) and Terry Swanson (Toledo), the Quips welcomed juniors Kaezon Pugh and DiMantae Bronaugh to the feature roles.
“It’s a typical Aliquippa team,” Rossi said. “They’re going to pound you. They have a great offensive line and good backs, and the scary part is they have good receivers and a good quarterback, too.”
Quips senior QB Darrien Fields intends to rewrite his personal Heinz Field history. As a first-year starter in 2013, he threw two interceptions in the final two minutes of the loss.
“Those things haunt me,” he said. “In the back of my mind and the bottom of my heart, I thought about (a rematch). But I didn’t want to start off Week 1 thinking about South Fayette in the championship, because something could’ve happened to us, and something could’ve happened to them. We all had to handle our business until we got here.”
Zmijanac declined to reflect on the 2013 loss.
“Last year’s game is irrelevant,” he said. “Revenge is for losers.”