’Lopes no match for Steel Valley

Avonworth’s Alex Osborn takes down a runner. Photo by Luke Thor Travis for The Citizen

By JIM RUMBLE

Having to face the top ranked team in the 2A classification, the Avonworth Antelopes football team had their work cut out for themselves when they hosted Steel Valley last Friday.

The Ironmen, coming in as the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion, looked every bit the part as they cruised to a 35-7 win over the Antelopes.

"They're a very good football team," said 'Lopes coach Duke Johncour.

The mercy rule came into play in the contest, as it did for all of Steel Valley's game's last season until Avonworth got on the board late in the fourth quarter.

"You played hard and didn't give up and I'm proud of your effort tonight and the way you finished the game," said Johncour to his players afterwards.

Avonworth was fully aware of how tough it would be to run the ball against the Steel Valley defense led by standout linebacker Todd Hill and primarily went with short passes on offense early on.

"We were expecting a lot of man [one on one] coverage, and we were trying to get our receivers in space. They countered with zone coverage, and they had a great game plan against us defensively," said Johncour.

The 'Lopes began the game on offense and picked up a first down with a 9-yard pass completion from Derek Johncour to Turner Grau, but the drive was short lived and ended with a punt on fourth down.

The Ironmen followed with a drive moved 69 yards in seven plays for a touchdown.

Avonworth's Dmitri Bocchino recorded a sack on the drive, but Steel Valley converted a third down and 16 situation by completing a 29-yard pass and soon finished with a 37-yard TD pass. The extra point kick had the Ironmen taking a 7-0 lead with 6:55 left in the first quarter.

The ensuing possession for the Antelopes ended with a blocked punt that allowed Steel Valley to begin on offense at the Avonworth 26.

The Ironmen cashed in completing a 25-yard TD pass on fourth down and added the extra point to lead 14-0.

Avonworth's next drive reached midfield before their punt on fourth down forced Steel Valley to begin from their 8 yard line. The Ironmen picked up a couple of first downs before striking on a splash play, a 63-yard touchdown pass. A bad snap on the extra point try forced a hurried pass attempt that fell incomplete, but Steel Valley moved ahead 20-0 only two minutes into the second quarter.

The Antelopes were able to slow down the Ironmen offense through the remainder of the quarter while they began to have success, twice moving on offense into Steel Valley territory. Grau and Brennan Neidhart each had key pass receptions that kept the drives alive, but an interception on Avonworth's last possession of the second quarter allowed Steel Valley to maintain their 20-0 lead at halftime.

The Ironmen obtained great field position after a short kick by the Antelopes and a decent return put the ball at the Avonworth 37 yardline to start the third quarter. Steel Valley ran the ball three times, culminating the drive with a 3-yard TD run followed by the extra point kick to lead 27-0.

Avonworth went three and out on their next possession before the Ironmen answered with another score. Starting from their 48, Steel Valley moved the ball but the big play was a fourth down and 1 situation that netted 39 yards on a pass completion to the Antelopes’ 4.
The Ironmen ran the ball into the end zone from there and completed a pass for the 2-point try to lead 35-0 with 7:28 left in the third quarter.

Avonworth was able to move the ball through the air on their next drive with Johncour completing passes to Grau and Jax Miller. Miller's 31-yard catch was the highlight of the drive that put the ball at the Steel Valley 15, but the Ironmen would soon take over on downs at their 11.

That possession ended with a blocked punt on fourth down by Drew Harper that put the Antelopes on offense at the Ironmen 28. Grau and Harper each caught short passes before Grau broke a couple of tackles on a pass reception from Johncour, that resulted in a 19 yard touchdown. Jason Novosel followed with the extra point kick that would put the final score at 35-7.

Johncour was 26-39 passing for 182 yards while Grau had 9 receptions for 106 yards.

Coach Johncour told his team that there were a lot of positives to be taken from this game but urged his players to not be satisfied with that only.

"You have to earn everything you get," he said.