Yet even though it’s a memorable accomplishment just to make it to Pennsylvania football's final weekend, making the short jaunt home with silver-tinted medals for the third successive year has to be extremely disappointing — and it undoubtedly was.
Especially since the game was tight at the halftime break.
Avante McKenzie wheeled for 198 yards on 22 rushing attempts and scored four touchdowns as Aliquippa pulled away to a 35-0 victory over the hard-luck Blue Raiders Saturday afternoon at arctic-like Hersheypark Stadium.
“I hate that our seniors are leaving on a bad note after everything they’ve done for our program,” Middletown head coach Brett Myers said. “It’s not a good feeling, but in the end I’m sure they’ll look back and be extremely proud.”
Eli Kosanovich tacked up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Gevod Tyson for Mike Warfield’s Quips (14-1), who reeled in the program’s first state championship since 2003 — when the great Darrelle Revis spent a Sunday afternoon tormenting Northern Lehigh.
Jose Lopez rolled up 146 rushing yards on 22 carries for Myers’ Blue Raiders (14-2), who reached the red zone twice in the opening half yet were unable to cash in.
Despite the disappointing result, Lopez’s productive performance still pushed him past former Blue Raiders great Brady Fox, elevating the 5-11, 195-pound junior to the No. 1 spot on Middletown’s career rushing chart with 4,000-plus yards.
“We shouldn’t downplay that, that’s an amazing thing for a junior to break our rushing record,” Myers added. “To do it in the state final is extremely impressive.”
“That kid is good,” Warfield said of Lopez. “If he gets a crease, it could be night. It could be night-night. We knew we all had to rally to the ball and all 11 needed to be near the ball, because if he got a crease, he could take it. He’s a good player.”
So is McKenzie.
While McKenzie motored into the end zone from five yards out with 1:24 left in the opening quarter to put the Quips in front, Myers’ Blue Raiders were poised to author a response early in the second quarter when an opportunistic Antonio Bryant returned a Deoveon Crute fumble 17 yards to the Aliquippa 16.
Although three Lopez runs netted Middletown six yards, quarterback Scott Ash was unable to connect with Lamar Ventura in the end zone on fourth down.
A few moments later — after Kosanovich (17-of-30, 170 yards, 2 TDs) completed three passes — Ventura picked off a pass at the Middletown 12 and returned it 27 yards.
Just 36 seconds remained.
While Lopez wheeled 37 yards on a third-down call to the Aliquippa 13, Ash spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock. Myers sent in the field-goal unit, but Avery Williams’ 30-yard attempt into the wind was well short and possibly tipped.
“Middletown, they’re not here for no reason,” said McKenzie, who missed last weekend’s state semifinal for disciplinary reasons. “They’ve got a good team also. They didn’t come up here off of a fluke. They got here just like we got here.”
The Blue Raiders were never in scoring position from that point on.
“We just had to keep playing,” said McKenzie, who gained 166 yards after the break. “We turned on that switch at halftime and we finished it.”
“We get spoiled when we don’t score 40 in the first quarter,” Warfield said. “We just had to take our time and just keep battling.”
Although Middletown was able to stop the Quips’ offense on their first second-half possession, once McKenzie bounced 35 yards for his second score with 6:40 to go in the third quarter it was a two-possession game as Aliquippa’s lead grew to 14-0.
And when the 5-6, 185-pound McKenzie went over the top from a yard out with 1:12 remaining in the third quarter, the Blue Raiders were down 21-0 and a run-first attack was going to have put it up to have a chance to mount a comeback.
McKenzie ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter and Middletown fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leaving Aliquippa ready to place its mitts on the championship trophy. And eventually, that’s what happened.
Middletown, on the other hand, would have to settle for silver … yet again.
“It’s an amazing group,” Myers said of his departing seniors. “They’ve worked their way and built their way to getting things in place. To say they’ve been in a state final three years in a row at a place that never had a state finalist, that’s something special.
“They ought to be recognized for that.”