Antelopes head for WPIAL semi-finals

The Antelopes beat Riverside 31-14 last Friday to earn a chance to take on North Catholic again in the WPIAL semi-finals at Mars tonight. Pictured here, the Antelope defense played a huge role in the win,as demonstrated by Brendan McClearan (No. 51) and Justin Gross (No. 75). Photos by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By JIM RUMBLE

The big concern for the Avonworth football team heading into their quarterfinal game against the Riverside Panthers was how they would fare defensively against Jason Dambaugh, one of the top notch quarterbacks in the WPIAL. When all was said and done, the Antelopes turned in a stellar performance, snaring three interceptions on their way to defeating the Panthers 31-14.

"Our secondary came out and played stalwart defense and answered the call," said coach Duke Johncour. "We knew they [Riverside] were capable of making big plays and we had batted balls, interceptions and our kids kept everything in front of them."

Offensively, the Antelopes saw the return of Jamal Hughley, who rushed 14 times for 118 yards. Quarterback Josh Drawl completed nine of 13 passes for 72 yards, including two touchdown passes.

"Josh came to play today and he played exceptionally well," said Johncour.

Avonworth began the game on offense in decent field position when Brandon Wasko fielded a short kick by Riverside that set up the offense at the Antelope 40. Hughley and Wasko pounded away at the Panthers’ defense, accumulating four first downs before Wasko completed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Cole Pappas made good on the extra point kick, giving the 'Lopes a 7-0 lead just barely over a minute into the first quarter.

Riverside's opening drive reached midfield, but a sack by Kadale Coles and a false start penalty forced the Panthers to punt on fourth down. Avonworth again obtained good field position when Drwal returned the punt 32 yards to the Riverside 44 yard line.

The Antelopes were able to reach the end zone on their next possession. Key plays in the drive were a third-and-7 pass by Drawl to Paul Heflin to move the chains, and a run by Hughley on a pitch-out that went for 17 yards to the Panthers’ 5. Avonworth was facing a fourth-and-goal when Wasko got into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Pappas followed with the kick, giving the 'Lopes a 14-0 lead with 2:53 left in the opening quarter.

Riverside followed with a drive that started from their 28-yard line, mixing it up on offense to reach the Antelopes’ 30 at the start of the second quarter. Avonworth dodged a bullet when Dambaugh scrambled from the pocket on a fourth-and-15 play, but somehow ran out of bounds short of the first down to end the drive.

The 'Lopes were forced to punt on the ensuing possession, and a short kick by Wasko that netted 13 yards gave the Panthers excellent field position at the Antelopes’ 35 yard line. Riverside moved the ball to the Avonworth 17 before Drawl intercepted a third- and-9 pass that he returned 70 yards to the Panthers’ 25.

Hughley ran for a 19-yard gain before Drwal completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chris O'Malley. Pappas’ kick came next to give the 'Lopes a 21-0 lead with 5:24 remaining in the second quarter.

The teams traded possessions before the Panthers were denied one more time before halftime. Riverside moved from the 50-yard line to the Avonworth 6, but Drwal snatched his second interception in the end zone to preserve a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Panthers opened on offense to start the third quarter. A sack by Brendan McClearan forced a punt on fourth down.

Avonworth took command of the game when they followed with a drive that moved 86 yards in 10 plays to reach the end zone. Wasko, Hughley and Drwal gobbled up real estate on the ground, but the big play of the drive was a 28-yard pass from Drwal to Hughley that put the ball inside the Panthers' 10-yard line. The drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Drwal to O'Malley, followed by Pappas' kick, lifting the Antelopes to a 28-0 lead with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter.

Cole Jenkins ended Riverside's next drive with an interception, and then caught a 14-yard pass from Drawl that helped set up Pappas' 37-yard field goal that gave Avonworth a 31-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Riverside finally got on the scoreboard, with Dambaugh throwing TD passes of 81 yards and 59 yards to finalize Avonworth's 31-14 victory.

For the second time in two years, the 'Lopes will meet their nemesis, North Catholic, in a semifinal showdown at Mars tonight at 7:30 p.m.

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