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Thursday, July 18, 2024

COMMENTARY: 4A title tilt between Bishop McDevitt and Aliquippa lives up to the hype

This was the fourth time since 2010 Bishop McDevitt played for a state championship, and you could make a fair argument this was only the second time the Crusaders and head coach Jeff Weachter had a real shot at ending a drought without a title that dates back to 1995.

McDevitt and Aliquippa put on a football show Thursday night in the PIAA Class 4A championship game. It was two really good teams who played the game at a rarely seen level for 48 minutes.

Each team made one major football mistake — Aliquippa didn’t react to a short kickoff in the first quarter and McDevitt recovered the live ball then scored four plays later, and the Crusaders threw a pick-6 in the first quarter. Each squad essentially had a free touchdown in the 34-27 final.

Otherwise everything else posted on the scoreboard was earned. McDevitt was the more explosive offense in terms of big plays. Aliquippa was more efficient and balanced.

The difference in this one was the Quips offense. They converted 10 times on third and fourth down. They made every big play in key situations in the second half to keep McDevitt’s defense on the field.

Bishop McDevitt didn’t really do a whole lot to lose this game. Aliquippa simply didn’t misfire once when it really mattered to claim its fourth state title in school history.

Sure, you could nitpick about little things here and there with each team that added up. In the end, Aliquippa was better and deserved to win.

Did the McDevitt defense have opportunities in the second half? What’s crazy is this defense, led by 28 combined tackles from Ryan Russo and Riley Robell, created a ton of chances to give the ball back to its offense and couldn’t clear that final hurdle.

Aliquippa converted third-and-1, third-and-9, fourth-and-8, fourth-and-goal, third-and-11 and fourth-and-2 all in the second half. Not very often you see this McDevitt defense create this many chances and not be able to finish.

The critical tipping point in this highly entertaining championship game came in the third quarter when the Quips kept converting on third and fourth down to string together a staggering 17-play drive that covered 80 yards and sucked nearly nine minutes off the clock. McDevitt ran four plays offensively in the third quarter.

When the Quips capped the march on the first snap of the final quarter, it gave them a narrow 27-20 lead.

With opportunities limited, McDevitt had to respond. Derailed by a horrifically bad intentional ground call and pressure from the Quips defensive front, the Crusaders went three-and-out.

Four Aliquippa snaps later, the Quips traversed 47 more yards with ease in only four plays to snare a two-score lead with only nine minutes and change to play.

McDevitt made two trips into the Aliquippa red zone those final nine minutes, but scored once and came up empty once. Honestly it was a tall ask to score twice against another really good defense that had McDevitt’s run game locked down.

After the game, Weachter said that Aliquippa long drive in the second half reminded him of the Archbishop Wood drive in 2013 that salted the game away. He is right in that the drives were similar. But in 2013 the Crusaders had zero say in the outcome of that game. Wood was driving the train that day. This game was much more like the 2010 title game with Allentown Central Catholic where it was a 50-50 proposition who would win until the bitter end.

You will hear from this McDevitt team again in 2022. They lose several key components — star receivers Kamil Foster and Mario Easterly on offense, and LB Ryan Russo and DL Nate Kinsey on defense. But the core of this team led by QB Stone Saunders and DL-OL Riley Robell, returns.

The bad news is the large majority of the Quips top players are underclassmen as well, including four of the five members of what I can safely say is the biggest offensive line I’ve seen in 30 years of covering high school football.

I for one wouldn’t mind seeing Round 2 of this matchup in 364 days. The first one lived up to the billing.

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