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Hopewell Junior High Basketball

Remembering the Greatest WPIAL Final of All Time 19 Years Later

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Boys and girls will be competing for WPIAL basketball championships all this week and throughout the weekend. So, anytime that happens, it brings back memories of a high school game that will never be forgotten.

When ranking specific things such as players, games, etc., it’s difficult to undoubtedly say something is the greatest because it’s obviously subjective and always in the eye of the beholder.

However, I am confident in saying that there hasn’t been a better high school basketball game played in Western Pennsylvania than the one played almost 19 years ago to the day.

On Feb. 26, 2005, Beaver Falls High School took on Aliquippa High School for the WPIAL Class-AA championship.

It was a matchup between two storied basketball high school programs, and the court was filled with elite talent.

Final score — Beaver Falls: 79, Aliquippa: 78 in triple overtime before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 5,000 fans at the AJ Palumbo Center.

In case you’re not familiar with the game, watch and listen to the highlights before reading the rest of the story. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about why this was such a legendary game.

The head coach of Beaver Falls in that game was 34-year-old Doug Biega, who went on to win four WPIAL championships, two PIAA championships and was inducted into two Hall of Fames in Pennsylvania. He eventually retired from high school coaching and for the last few years, has overseen the Hopewell Area School District Youth Basketball programs.

With it nearly being on the anniversary of that iconic game, I caught up with Biega to get his specific thoughts and memories of that legendary game.

“I have that sequence saved on my phone,” said Biega. “You just pulling it up now, the immediate reaction is goosebumps, still to this day. We’re talking almost 20 years ago, and every time I see that, it elicits the same reaction — chills and goosebumps. It’s a day that, honestly, I’ll never forget.”

Beaver Fall star Lance Jeter’s shot-making and the frantic endings to regulation, the first overtime and the second overtime ended will always stand out, but Biega can think of more things aside from those heroics.

“More so than that exact day, I remember things about that whole year,” Biega said. “In 2004, we were a sophomore-laden team, and we went to the WPIAL finals against a powerhouse Sto-Rox team, during the Adam DiMichele days. They were ridiculously talented, and we lost to them in the last 30 seconds of the game, with going to the state championships in Hershey on the line. We would have won the state title because whoever won that game was going to win the state title, Sto-Rox did. So, going into the following season, we knew what our objective was, all or nothing. We were either going to win a state championship or it would be viewed as a failure by us.

“However, here comes Herb Pope to Aliquippa, midway through the fall. Now all of a sudden, after what we thought was going to be our championship, now we were really going to have to fight for it. Plus looking at AA that year, you had a Jeannette team with Terrelle Pryor on it, Sto-Rox was still Sto-Rox, you’re talking Bishop Canevin and you’re talking about this Aliquippa team that had Herb Pope, Jonathan Baldwin, Tommie Campbell, Brandon Lindsey, there were no bad players on that team, even Shenango had Stephen McNees. That whole year, we felt threatened in terms of what our goal was.”

The goal that year was obviously achieved following that miraculous shot from Jeter. But that shot at the buzzer in triple overtime was one of four shots hit at the buzzer to extend the game when it looked like it could be over. You wanna talk about the stress for a young coach to be sitting on the sidelines on that night?

“Every ending of a quarter or overtime was achieved by a positive result from a team,” said Biega. “There were no missed shots at the end of a quarter or overtime. I don’t know that it was the most Aesthetically pleasing game to watch, it was more like a blood bath. But the competition level was like nothing anyone will see again. It wasn’t the prettiest, but you saw two schools competing at the highest level. Competing, not playing at the highest level throughout the entire time. I knew that we could get them, but it didn’t seem to be working out. Aliquippa just had a gene at the time that they weren’t going to lose to anyone in championship games. The year before in the WPIAL Championship game, we lost to Aliquippa. Darrelle Revis, a horrible play on their part. They were up one and threw an alley-oop to him, a midcourt alley-oop to him. It was a bad situation of the game for that, and the pass went in for a 3-pointer. That put us down 2 possessions with 15 seconds left.

“So, I remembered that, and it was like, ‘Man, what are we going to have to do to get over this hump with them? They just knew how to win championships.’ As the game was going on, that was my thought. The X’s and O’s were out the window at that point, it was just a battle of wills. I was just thinking and hoping that we could get over the hump.”

Beaver Falls did get over the hump thanks to the heroics of Jeter, who had a monster game, leading all scorers with 37 points. But the play that will be remembered was the 45-foot shot that gave the Tigers their seventh WPIAL title and the first in 11 years.

“You knew Lance was special,” Biega said. “As a sophomore, actually the year prior, we were playing at Aliquippa and were down three points with three seconds to go, and Lance threw up a ball from our foul line into the basket to send it to overtime. What Lance did wasn’t luck. He was a hard worker; he was an alpha competitor. He was more competitive than anyone that I’ve been around my entire life, adult or student. Good looks happens to people like that. Shots like that weren’t lucky because he kept doing it. He did it multiple times and did it later that month from the foul line to send us to Hershey. He deserved that, and we as a team deserved that. It wasn’t luck, we worked very hard for that championship.”

As everyone involved in the game gets older, moments like that get more special. It’s a period of his life that Biega and anyone connected with that Beaver Falls championship team will never forget.

“It’s always special but especially this week,” said Biega. “It’s like your firstborn, I’ve had four of these (WPIAL championships) but you never ever forget that first feeling. I still remember everything still so vividly. I remember him shooting that ball, I remember watching the net, it seemed like for seconds the net holding the ball, swishing back and forth and the ball going through with the chaos that ensued. I just remember how exhausted we all were and the respect that both teams had for each other after competing in that.

“Around this time of the year when it has the anniversary, man, it feels so amazing. I still remember how I felt back then. It’s almost 20 years ago, but it’s never going to go away. I honestly don’t believe this feeling will ever dissipate.”

 

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