Avonworth hopes to climb to top of Western Hills and beyond

By:
Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | 12:01 PM


When it comes to consistently excellent football programs in the district, Avonworth is right there in the conversation.

The 2019 WPIAL Class 2A champions and PIAA runners-up have reached the playoffs every season since 2007 with the exception of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign when the Antelopes finished tied for second place in the Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference with a 4-2 overall record but lost the tiebreaker to Keystone Oaks.

Avonworth bounced back with a strong 2021 season, finishing in second place behind eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Central Valley in the Northwestern Six with an overall record of 8-2.

The Antelopes rolled past Mt. Pleasant in the Class 3A quarterfinals before falling to rival North Catholic, 7-0, in the district semifinals.

“We had a very good year and fell short of getting to Heinz Field by a couple of plays,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “Our kids worked really hard and had a good year.”

A lot of new faces will crack the Antelopes starting lineup this fall as the program returns only five starters on offense and six on defense.

A good starting point for the ‘Lopes is the return of senior quarterback Nate Harper. Last fall, he hit on 100 of 181 passes for 1,232 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Top target Peyton Faulkner also is back. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior tight end/linebacker/defensive end had 32 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. He was also named a member of the 2022 Trib HSSN Preseason All-Star Team.

“We are expecting big things this season from Nate and Peyton,” Johncour said. “They are working really hard to get ready.”

The two have played together since sixth grade and Faulkner believes his quarterback is ready for another big season.

“He’s an exceptional quarterback,” he said. “I’m excited to see him show everybody the work he did in the offseason and how it will translate to the field. He will lead and step up when needed.”

Last year’s leading rusher, Ian Syam, is gone, but Johncour has a couple of players he believes can carry the load of the running attack.

“We have two running backs we are excited about in senior Luke Hilyard and junior Brandon Biagiarelli,” he said.

Two other key returning components for the Antelopes are junior wide receiver/safety Andrew Kuban and senior wide receiver/cornerback Elvin Le.

“Andrew is a two-way player that will play critical roles on offense and defense,” Johncour said. “Elvin is a returning defensive back who will be a big player in our defensive scheme.”

One concern as the season grows closer is up front on offense as Avonworth will have four new linemen.

“We are lacking experience, but we don’t lack willingness,” Faulkner said. “We have a ton of guys willing to put their hand in the dirt and hit people and we will find the right fit. When you have a bunch of guys that trust each other, it’s going to be a successful front five.”

Avonworth will be part of the new Western Hills Conference in Class 3A, playing with recent conference foes Hopewell and Quaker Valley along with Beaver, Seton LaSalle, South Park and West Mifflin.

“It is tough to say about the new conference,” Johncour said. “The 4A teams that dropped are quality programs and will be a challenge.”

Avonworth

Coach: Duke Johncour

2021 record: 4-1, 9-3

All-time record: 429-506-15

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 Grove City, 7

9.2 at Central Valley, 7

9.9 Sto-Rox, 7

9.16 at Hopewell*, 7

9.23 South Park*, 7

9.30 at West Mifflin*, 7

10.7 Beaver*, 7

10.14 at North Catholic, 7

10.21 at Seton LaSalle*, 7

10.28 Quaker Valley*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Nate Harper

100-181, 1,232 yards, 11 TDs

Rushing: Ian Syam*

178-1,389, 21 TDs

Receiving: Peyton Faulkner

32-356, 5 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Duke Johncour begins his 12th season as head coach at Avonworth. His teams have reached the district playoffs in 10 of his 11 years and his record is 86-35.

• Avonworth has won two WPIAL football championships. The first came in 1959 when the team tied Union, 13-13, in the Class A title game and was declared co-champ. Sixty years later, the Antelopes won outright gold when they beat Washington, 28-6, to win the 2019 Class 2A crown. The ‘Lopes advanced to the PIAA finals two weeks later before losing to state power Southern Columbia.

• For all the recent success the program has enjoyed, it’s hard to believe that it was 14 years ago when Avonworth picked up its first football playoff win. Yes, the team tied for a title 63 years ago, but the championship game was the only playoff game back then. The Antelopes beat California, 35-8, in the first round of the 2008 Class A playoffs for the program’s first postseason win. They have won 17 playoff games since.

• This is the 109th season of Avonworth football, including preceding schools in the district.

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