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Aliquippa too much for Blue Raiders; Middletown falls in state title game

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

Posted 12/10/18

The good news is that junior running back Jose Lopez surpassed Brady Fox as the all-time career rushing leader in Blue Raider history.

The not-so-good news is Middletown was again was denied in …

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Aliquippa too much for Blue Raiders; Middletown falls in state title game


The good news is that junior running back Jose Lopez surpassed Brady Fox as the all-time career rushing leader in Blue Raider history.

The not-so-good news is Middletown was again was denied in its quest for a state championship, for the third year in a row.

Big, physical and talented Aliquippa shut out the Blue Raiders 35-0 on Saturday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium, dashing the hopes of a “Third Time is a Charm” mentality among Middletown players, coaches and fans.

The outcome of the game was not a true reflection of the season as the Raiders finished with an impressive 13-2 record that included their third straight Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division and District III championships.

It was, however, another case of the Middletown team being unable to break the curse of the West that beleaguered the players in 2016 and 2017.

In looking back to the start of the 2018 season, there were very few observers who expected this year’s squad to even make it back to Hershey. In that aspect, it is easy to say that the Blue Raiders accomplished much more than many thought they could do.

Despite the disappointment, coach Brett Myers appreciated the efforts from his seniors and their teammates.

“These guys (seniors) are special. They’ve played 45 games, competed in every one, and won 41 of those games,” he said. “There are not many teams who can say that.”

He added: “This team was in the state final for the third year in a row at a school that never had a state finalist. And that’s pretty impressive.” 

The Blue Raiders lost the title game the previous two years after going undefeated in the regular season — 30-13 to Beaver Falls in 2016 and 41-24 to Quaker Valley in 2017.

All season long, Aliquippa was ranked as the No. 1 3A team in the state and, on Saturday, the Quips showed that the ranking was justified.

As the first half unfolded, the Raiders were in good position to have a shot at unseating the kings. The eventful first half ended with Aliquippa hanging onto a slim 7-0 lead and gave the appearances of a real fight to the finish. Unfortunately for the Raiders, that all changed in the third quarter when the Quips scored twice to take a 21-0 lead into the game’s final 12 minutes. Two more scores in the fourth locked up the championship for the WPIAL champions.

The opening drive of the game saw the Middletown offense move to the Aliquippa 33 yard line before a couple mistakes stopped the drive. On second and 8, quarterback Scott Ash was sacked for a 9-yard loss. No gain on third down forced a punt.

Aliquippa took over at the 25 and made progress to the Middletown 42 in seven plays before Raider linebacker Trayvon Joseph intercepted an Eli Kosanovich pass.

The Raiders again crossed midfield as Lopez had a pair of carries for a combined 35 yards. But a fourth and 5 forced another punt by Ash that was nearly downed at the 1 yard line. The ball instead crossed the goal line and the Quips took over at the 20.

The Middletown defense held the Quips to zero yards in three plays and Aliquippa was set up in punt formation. Either planned or not, Quips’ punter William Gipson snared a high snap and took off running, going 16 yards for a first down.

A Raider penalty moved the ball to the 49. Runs by M. J. Devonshire (30 yards) and Avante McKenzie (16 yards) set up McKenzie’s 5-yard touchdown run with 1:24 left in the first quarter.

The Raiders were on the move again and crossed into the second period before the drive again ended at the Quips 46.

Three plays into Aliquippa’s ensuing possession, Antonio Bryant recovered a fumble by Vernon Redd that came at the end of a 21-yard pass play. The turnover gave the Middletown offense possession at the Quips 16 with an excellent chance to tie the score.

Three running plays by Lopez netted 6 yards, however, as the Quips held firm. A pass from Ash on fourth and 4 was broken up in the end zone and denied the Raiders their scoring opportunity.

Later in the first half, linebacker Lamar Ventura intercepted Kosanovich at the 15 with just 36 seconds left. A pass completion from Ash to Ventura and a 27-yard run by Lopez quickly gave the Raiders a first down at the Aliquippa 13. But with 5 seconds left, a 30-yard field goal attempt by Avery Williams into a strong wind came up short and the half ended with the 7-0 Aliquippa lead.

Not much went well for the Blue Raiders after that.

Following an exchange of punts to start the third quarter, the Quips scored their second touchdown on a 35-yard run by McKenzie with 6:40 left in the third. With 1:12 left, another McKenzie run, this one from 1 yard out, put the Quips in control at 21-0.

Stymied by the improving Aliquippa defense, the Raiders could not get anything going from that point on.

Early in the fourth, McKenzie broke through the tiring Middletown defense for an 80-yard touchdown sprint that essentially put the game away at 28-0. To make matters worse, a lost fumble on the ensuing kickoff put the ball back in the Quips hands at the Raiders’ 29 with 11:30 left.

The Middletown defense, led by Cole Senior, Gage Radabaugh, Ventura, Joseph, Ethan Miller, Morgan Billman, Adonis Taveras, Joe Gusler, Richie Sykes and Bryant, still fought as best it could and the Quips needed eight plays to reach the end zone one more time. A personal foul against the Raiders aided the drive that was capped by a Kosanovich pass to Gevod Tyson with 7:43 left. A pass interception stopped the Raiders following drive, Aliquippa ran the clock down to 2:36, and the Raiders were held in place as the final time ran out.

Lopez finished the game with 145 yards on 22 carries while setting the new school rushing record in the loss.

Seventeen seniors made their final appearances as Middletown Blue Raiders, many of whom were with the program for the past three seasons.