Antelopes progress in WPIAL playoffs

Avonworth quarterback Zach Chandler hands off to Nick Weiser (No. 20) as the Antelopes rally to defeat Beth-Center during the first round of the WPIAL playoffs On Nov. 6. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By JIM RUMBLE

In their WPIAL first-round game played at Beth-Center last Friday, the Avonworth Antelopes football team overcame a slow start with a dominating second half to dispose of the Bulldogs 27-12.

The Antelopes had a difficult time in the first half containing Beth-Center's Anthony Welsh, who rushed for 152 yards early on, but was neutralized in the second half.

"They [Beth-Center] have a good back who got outside our contain, but we came out flat and weren't ready to play," said coach Duke Johncour. "We told the team at the half to step up and we were able to tighten up on defense," he said.

Beth-Center got on the scoreboard on the game's opening drive, moving 69 yards in three plays for a score. The big play was a 63-yard touchdown run by Welsh, but the Bulldogs missed on the extra point kick and led 6-0.

The teams traded possessions before Avonworth would find the end zone on their second drive.

Starting from their 24-yard line, quarterback Zach Chandler moved the offense with pass completions to Cole Jenkins and Kurt Niklaus, but the big play on drive was a third-and-10 pass reception by Jenkins for 32 yards to the Beth-Center 14. On the next play from scrimmage, Ryan Hunt broke through the middle of the line for a touchdown and Cole Pappas added the extra point kick, moving the 'Lopes in front 7-6 with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs continued to have success running the ball as they reached the Antelopes’ 20-yard line, but the drive ended with a stop on fourth down that gave Avonworth possession at the Beth-Center 23.

The 'Lopes were facing a third down and 13 when Chandler, under pressure, scrambled, was hit, and fumbled the ball for the game's first turnover. Beth-Center was able to capitalize on first down with a 22-yard touchdown run, but missed on the extra point try to lead 12-7 with 6:41 left in the second quarter.

Garrett Day had a nice return on the ensuing kick-off that put the 'Lopes on offense at the Bulldogs’ 44, but the possession was short-lived. Beth-Center recovered a fumbled exchange in the Antelopes’ backfield.

The Bulldogs reached the 'Lopes’ 14 before fumbling the ball, and the teams would go to halftime with the score remaining 12-7.

Avonworth came out on offense to start the third quarter, and used that possession to reclaim the lead. Chandler completed passes to Jenkins and Day, but did most of the damage with runs of 15 and 16 yards respectively. The four-and-a-half minute drive culminated by a 12-yard touchdown run by Chandler, and Pappas made good on the extra point kick to give Avonworth a 14-12 lead.

Luck was on the Antelopes' side when Pappas followed with some sort of pooch kick that Day recovered at the Bulldogs’ 33.

"That was a big play by our special teams," said Johncour.

Chandler was able to keep the drive alive with a short run on fourth down that moved the chains, and Avonworth overcame a couple of penalties as Chandler completed a pass to Day over the middle that resulted in a 25-yard touchdown. Pappas followed with the kick and the 'Lopes moved ahead 21-12 with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Avonworth's final touchdown was set up by a fumble recovery at the Beth-Center 34-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Freshman Nick Weiser broke loose on a 31-yard touchdown run to secure the 27-12 victory for the Antelopes.

"I think our strength and conditioning took over in the fourth quarter," said Johncour.

Avonworth (8-2) will face top-seeded Clairton (10-0) in a quarterfinal game to be played at Peters Township tonight at 7:30 p.m.