Antelopes win slug-fest by 1 point

Avonworth’s Cole Jenkins dives for the end zone. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By MEL PERKINS

Northgate and Avonworth met last Friday night in a thriller on Halloween's Eve, and all those who were in attendance witnessed a western style shootout, with all of the bushwhacking and gun slinging you could ever imagine.

The game see-sawed back and forth in the fourth quarter as the lead changed three times, and when the smoke cleared the Flames had come up short on the wrong side of a 50 - 49 heartbreaker.

“If this wasn't the best game in the state of Pennsylvania tonight, show me one that was better,” Northgate head coach T.J. Wiley said later. “It was a slug-fest. If you like offense, this was the game to come to.”

Avonworth's Zach Chandler threw for 365 yards to break the WPIAL single-season record for passing yards, set by Seton-LaSalle's Bruce Gradkowski in 2000. Chandler also rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns, something Avonworth head coach Duke Johncour said he knew would be critical to Avonworth’s game plan.

“We knew we had to run him to advance,” Johncour said.

And Northgate had two QBs throw for over 100 yards, with Xavier Rowsey going 9 of 14 for 173 yards, and Stephon Adams going 3 of 6 for 120 yards.

The Flames' defense took the field first, and the Avonworth offense gave them all they could handle. Chandler orchestrated a 12-play drive, starting on their 21-yard line and going 79 yards in a little over five minutes. The 'Lopes drew first blood when Chandler hit Garrett Day in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard TD. Cole Pappas' kick was good and Avonworth was up 7-0.

On the ensuing kick, Surron Adams fielded it on the Northgate 20-yard line and returned it to the Avonworth 21, and with great field position, Xavier Rowsey hit Rodney Burrow in the flat, and the Flames were looking at a 1st-and-goal from the 9. Rowsey called his own number, but the ball squirted loose and rolled into the end zone. Courtney Brown fell on the loose ball for a Northgate TD and the Flames were on the scoreboard. After a roughing the kicker call against the 'Lopes, Northgate went for two, with Kenny Azzarello catching a pass from Rowsey to give the Flames an 8-7 lead with 4:22 left in the first quarter.

After the Northgate kick, Avonworth took the field throwing. Chandler completed passes to Day and Sebastian Mihalko before connecting with Cole Jenkins on a 29-yard TD pass, with 2:13 left in the quarter. Pappas' kick was good, and the 'Lopes had regained the lead with the score 14-8.

A penalty on the kick gave the Flames the ball on their 40-yard line. Stefon Adams lined up under center, gutting it out on a bad ankle, and he dropped back and threw a strike to Rowsey. Rowsey raced 60 yards for a Flames' TD, tit-for-tat. Rowsey's point-after kick was good, and the Flames were back on top 15-14.

Again, Chandler went to the air, throwing 25 yards to Jenkins for a first down in Flames' territory. On 1st-and-10 from the 40, Chandler's next pass fell incomplete. Avonworth's first two series of the game had ended with TDs, but not this time, because Jarred Jackson stepped in front of Chandler's pass on the Northgate 36 and returned it to the 50-yard line with 1:13 left in the quarter.

The quarter was coming to an end and the Flames' drive looked to be sputtering. Looking at a 3rd-and-9 from the 49, Rowsey stepped back into the pocket and threw downfield, connecting with his brother, Chase Rowsey, for a Flames' first down.

The second quarter started with the Flames on the 'Lopes' 38, and a face mask penalty moved Northgate up to the 22-yard line. First-and-10 from the 22, Adams, on a bad wheel, connected with X. Rowsey for a 23-yard TD pass. X. Rowsey's kick was good and the Flames were up 22-14.

The Northgate defense stiffened, and the Flames forced the 'Lopes to punt on their next series. The Flames' defense would not allow another 'Lopes score in the half.

After a short punt, Northgate set up shop on the 'Lopes' 28-yard line, and began pounding the Avonworth line with the run game. Surron Adams and X. Rowsey took turns running at the center of the Avonworth line. Then, looking at second down and goal from the 7, X. Rowsey hit Jackson in the back of the end zone for a Northgate TD with 7:30 left in the half. X. Rowsey's kick was good and the Flames were in command with a 2-14 lead. And, that would be the half time score.

The second half of play was fast and furious. Northgate started on offense, but a fumble on the second play of the half gave Avonworth the ball on the Northgate 25. Chandler went right to work, hitting Jenkins for a 21-yard TD pass with only 1:25 elapsed from the clock. Pappas' kick was good, and the Flames were still up 29-21. But, the momentum was shifting.

Turn-overs would end the next three series. But, it was Alex Quinn's interception that set up Avonworth's next score. With the ball on their own 34, Chandler threw 26 yards to Day, and the 'Lopes were across midfield. First-and-10 from the Northgate 40, Chandler dropped back and hit Jenkins for the TD. Chandler ran it in for the two-point conversion, and the score was all knotted up at 29.

After the kick, Northgate started on their 20 and mixed it up on offense. X. Rowsey threw to Burrow and C. Rowsey, with a dose of Surron Adams up the middle, but the drive sputtered. Looking at a 4th-and-12 from the 'Lopes' 35, Surron Adams lined up in the wildcat and took the snap. Running to his right, he spotted X. Rowsey downfield and hit him in stride for a Flames' TD with 2:13 left in the third quarter. The extra point kick was no good, but the Flames were up 35-29, and that would be the score after three quarters of play.

Northgate's Jackson ended the 'Lopes' next series with a sack, and Northgate took over on downs on their 40. Sticking to the run, Burrow and X. Rowsey alternated carries, moving the ball across midfield and down to the Avonworth 21-yard line. On 2nd-and-1 from the 21, X. Rowsey ran center line, hurdling over a defender, before bursting into the end zone for a Flames' TD with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter. Rowsey threw to Jackson for the two-point conversion and the score was Northgate 43 - Avonworth 29.

After the kick, Avonworth started on their 47, and Chandler completed a couple of passes to Day before turning to the run. Ryan Hunt, Kurt Niklaus and Chandler all had carries before Chandler, 1st-and-10 from the 11, powered his way into the Northgate end zone for a 'Lopes' TD, with 6:52 left in the game. Pappas' kick was good and now the Lopes' were trailing by only a TD.

Northgate was forced to punt on their next series, and Avonworth's Chandler threw to Jenkins for 33 yards and a first down. With the ball on the Northgate 20, Chandler ran center line to the Northgate 9-yard line. And, on 1st-and-goal, Chandler ran hard for a 'Lopes' TD. Chandler also carried it in for the two-point conversion, and with 3:45 left in the game, the score was Avonworth 44 - Northgate 43.

Northgate had the ball on their 40-yard line after the kick, and they wasted no time. X. Rowsey's pass fell incomplete on first down, but on 2nd-and-10, X. Rowsey dropped back in the pocket and fired down field, finding Jackson in stride, and he ran 60 yards for a Flames' TD with 3:20 left in the game. The two-point conversion failed, but Northgate had regained the lead 49-44.

Northgate kicked, and the defense was faced with the task of preserving the Flames' lead. But Chandler would prove to be too much this night.

Starting on their 35, Chandler threw on first down to Jenkins, and the 'Lopes were across midfield, on the Flames' 35-yard line. Chandler ran center line on four consecutive plays, going into the end zone from the Northgate 7-yard line for a 'Lopes' TD with 1:12 left in the game. The two-point conversion failed, but Avonworth was up 50-49, and that would be the final score.

Northgate's offense ran out of gas, and time expired. In a battle for the ages, it was a shame anybody had to lose this one.

“It's bittersweet because that senior class of mine is special, what a foundation they have laid,” Wiley said later. “All my seniors played their butts off tonight. I'm over the top proud of my kids. I love these kids like they're my own.”

Johncour also was impressed by the Flames. “They executed a good game plan. They made big plays. We weren’t able to get them off the field -- they punted once.”

The loss put to rest any hopes for a playoff berth for the Northgate Flames (3-4, 5-4), but the 'Lopes (5-2, 7-2) will travel to Beth-Center tonight for their first round game in the WPIAL playoffs.