’Lopes move on in playoffs

Avonworth quarterback Derek Johncour gets lots of protection while he looks for a receiver during a first round WPIAL playoff game last Friday. The Antelopes upset #5 ranked Charleroi to move on to a quarterfinal game tonight. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By JIM RUMBLE

On paper it looked as though the #12 ranked Avonworth Antelopes would be making an early exit from the WPIAL playoffs when they traveled to Charleroi to play the #5 ranked Cougars in a first round game last Friday.

Five first half turn-overs by Charleroi produced 21 points for the 3-5 Antelopes, who hung on to upset the 9-1 Cougars 21-12.

"We watched them [Charleroi] on film, and we knew it was going to be a shoot-out tonight," said coach Duke Johncour after the game. "That's a good football team, but our defense came up with some huge turn-overs."

The Antelopes appeared to be off to a great start on the game's opening drive when J.J. Igims ran the ball 47 yards on the first play from scrimmage to the Cougars’ 33 yard line. Avonworth's offense reached the Charleroi seven, but the 'Lopes came away empty handed when Jason Novosel's field goal try was off target from 24 yards out.

The next opportunity for the Antelopes came following their next possession, when a muffed punt was recovered by Pat Gannon at the Cougars’ 37. Avonworth overcame a holding penalty when quarterback Derek Johncour completed a pass of 35 yards to Turner Grau for a first down at the Charleroi 12. A couple of runs by Igims moved the ball in closer before Johcour rolled out to the right and completed a seven-yard pass to Grau for the touchdown. Novosel made good on the extra point kick, putting the 'Lopes up 7-0 with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

Drew Harper's interception cut the Cougars' next possession short, but nothing developed on offense for the Antelopes, who were force to punt the ball away on fourth down. The punt by Alex Osborn led to poor field position for Charleroi, who had to begin on offense from their 10 yard line. A holding penalty by the Cougars moved the ball back to their five yard line, and the possession ended with a pick six by Jax Miller, who returned the interception 17 yards to the end zone. Novosel followed with the extra point kick and the 'Lopes went ahead 14-0 with :19 remaining in the first quarter.

A fumble recovery by Joe Bevilacqua led to another touchdown for the Antelopes in the later stages of the second quarter. The 'Lopes moved on offense from their 29 with catches of 27 yards by Grau and a 12 yard reception by Brennan Neidhart to the Charleroi 32. On first down, Johncour completed a pass down the left side line to Grau that resulted in a 32-yard touchdown, and Novosel added the extra point kick to give Avonworth a 21-0 lead.

Johncour blocked a punt to end the next possession by the Cougars on their 25 yard line, but the Antelopes were not able to cash in because Johncour was intercepted on fourth down.

Another fumble by Charleroi came after a promising drive that ended at the Antelopes’ five yard line and enabled the 'Lopes to maintain a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Cougars continued with their momentum to begin the third quarter as they marched 59 yards in eight plays for a score. The big play for Charleroi came on a fourth down and long situation when they ended the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass. The extra point kick was blocked to put the score at 21-6.

Avonworth's next possession ended with an interception, but the 'Lopes were able to negate that when another hopeful drive by the Cougars was thwarted with an interception by Ethan Syam.

The next possession for the Antelopes ended with a short punt just barely into the fourth quarter that allowed Charleroi to start on offense from the Avonworth 44.

The Cougars consummated the six-play drive with a quarterback draw from two yards out for the score, but the pass attempt fell incomplete on the two-point try to put the score at 21-12 with 7:55 left in the game.

Avonworth moved the ball into Charleroi territory on their next possession, but the drive ended with a fumble that was recovered by the Cougars at their 48 yard line. Charleroi moved quickly down the field, reaching the Antelopes’ 10 yard line, but the Avonworth defense came through once again as the drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down.

With just under two minutes remaining in the game, the 'Lopes were able to run down the clock with key runs by Igims allowing Avonworth to secure their 21-12-victory.

Igims finished with 30 carries for 128 yards; Johncour completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards and Grau had eight receptions for 136 yards.