HERSHEY, Pa. - When Aliquippa fell short in the WPIAL championship last season, they had to watch the team that beat them, Quaker Valley, go on to win the state 3-A title.
What a difference a year makes.
In a controversial off-season move, Aliquippa voted to not bring back coach Mike Zmijanac and hired Mike Warfield for the job. Warfield had more than just championships in mind when he talked to Channel 11 in August. He wanted to build strong young men, help some of them get to D-1 schools and improve conditions in the stadium.
The team built a state-of-the-art locker room, and it turns out they also built a champion.
Avante McKenzie, who was benched for disciplinary reasons in the state semi-finals, came back Saturday for the title game against Middletown and put on one of the great all-time championship showings.
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The game was a defensive struggle at first, but the turning point was a gutsy call. Aliquippa's Will Gipson, a Pitt recruit, ran a fake punt from his own 20-yard line for a first down. The Quips then drove the ball down the field and scored on a 5-yard run by McKenzie.
The game remained 7-0 at the half after Middletown missed a 30-yard field goal just before the break.
In the second half, it was the McKenzie show. He ran for touchdowns of 35, one and 80 yards to give the Quips a 28-0 lead.
Quarterback Eli Kosanovich added one more with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Gevod Tyson.
Middletown has now lost three consecutive state championships to WPIAL teams: Beaver Falls, Quaker Valley and Aliquippa.
This was Aliquippa’s third state title overall, and their first since 2003.
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