Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen
Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen
By JIM RUMBLE
Injuries were part of the adversity the Avonworth Antelopes football team had to deal with all season, and that continued to be a factor when the 'Lopes met the Clairton Bears in a WPIAL quarterfinal game played last Friday.
Avonworth battled Clairton to a 14-14 tie by halftime, but just couldn't match up with the Bears in the second half as they fell 46-21 to end their season.
"I'm proud of these kids. They came out, gutted it up, and played their hearts out," said Antelopes’ coach Duke Johncour.
Things got dicey for Avonworth from the outset, but the 'Lopes managed to take the game's opening drive in for a score. Starting from the 22-yard line, the Antelopes offense moved ahead, using a couple of runs by quarterback Zach Chandler to pick up a first down. On the fifth play of the drive, after absorbing a hard hit, Chandler went to the sideline and wide receiver Garrett Day took control of the offense, utilizing the wildcat formation. Day was successful running the ball, keeping the Bears’ defense on their heels while moving the offense to the Clairton 7-yard line. Chandler returned to the game and consummated the 17-play drive with a touchdown pass to Day in the left side of the end zone. Cole Pappas followed with the extra point kick that had Avonworth leading 7-0 with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter.
Clairton countered on their first possession, which began at midfield. The Bears were able to overcome three penalties on the drive while converting several third-and-long situations. Clairton also converted a fourth down and long with a pass completion before finishing up with a 27-yard TD pass. The Bears then completed a pass for the two-point try to take the lead at 8-7.
The 'Lopes responded nicely with a 14-play drive for a touchdown. Key plays in the drive were a couple of receptions by Cole Jenkins, while Day continued to have success running the ball.
Avonworth was facing fourth-and-goal when Chandler powered into the end zone from the 1-yard line and Pappas added the extra point kick, moving the 'Lopes back in front 14-8 with 6:61 left in the second quarter.
Clairton reciprocated with a touchdown on a drive that started from their 39. The Bears took advantage of a personal foul penalty against the Antelopes along the way, and finished the 10-play drive with a 10-yard run for the touchdown. Avonworth kept Clairton out of the end zone on a run attempt for the two-point try, but the Bears pulled to even at 14-14 with 3:08 left in the second quarter.
Day was injured on a run on Avonworth's next possession and did not return to game action as the teams would go to the half still in a 14-14 tie.
"Garret Day came in and really did some wonderful things for us," said Johncour. "He got dinged up in the first half and losing him for the second half really made it challenging to get formations, calls and plays - he's a big part of our offense."
Avonworth had other players banged up still trying to soldier on, and that would allow Clairton to take control in the second half.
The Bears got the ball to start the third quarter, and ran the ball on second down 50 yards for a touchdown. They converted on a run for two points to lead 22-14 and never looked back.
Clairton added a touchdown later in the quarter, overcoming a couple of penalties that had them deep in their own end of the field. On a second down and 8, the Bears ran the ball 90 yards for a touchdown. A pass attempt on the two-point try fell incomplete, but Clairton now led 28-14.
The Bears converted the Antelopes' second turn-over of the period into points, snatching a bobbled exchange in the Avonworth backfield and running 70 yards to the end zone. Clairton did not convert on the two-point try but increased their lead to 34-14.
Jenkins and Kurt Niklaus had big catches on Avonworth's next possession, but Chandler's 3-yard touchdown run, followed by Pappas' kick, had the 'Lopes trailing 34-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Clairton scored on a 55-yard TD pass and added a 26-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to finalize the 46-21 loss for the Antelopes.