Avonworth makes smooth transition to Class 3A, blanks Quaker Valley

Friday, September 11, 2020 | 11:45 PM

Coming off a historic season that culminated in a WPIAL Class 2A championship, Avonworth had a lot of great players to replace, including a 2,500-yard passer and a 2,300-yard rusher, as it moved up to Class 3A this fall.

In their first chance to showcase their talents under the bright Friday night lights, the likes of junior running back Ian Syam and sophomore quarterback Nate Harper looked up to the task.

Syam rushed for 125 yards and three scores and Harper threw for more than 100 yards and a touchdown to help the Antelopes dispatch visiting Quaker Valley, 35-0, in a Northwestern 6 Conference game.

Syam and Harper highlighted a mostly new-look Antelopes team that controlled the game from start to finish.

After a 32-yard run by Patrick Cutchember on the first play from scrimmage that put the Quakers on the Antelopes’ 48-yard line, Avonworth (1-0, 1-0) only allowed Quaker Valley (0-1, 0-1) to cross midfield once the rest of the game.

“We have four kids with significant playing time back, so we’re happy with what they did,” Antelopes coach Duke Johncour said. “They’re young and they’re learning.”

Syam, who played behind standout running back Jax Miller last season, scored on a 3-yard run on Avonworth’s opening possession.

After a muffed punt by Quaker Valley set up the Antelopes at the Quakers’ 2, Syam cashed in again to make it 13-0.

On the first play of the second half, Syam sliced through the defense with several strong cuts, scoring from 60 yards out, pushing the lead to 27-0.

“(Syam) ran hard and ran well. In the first half, we told him we wanted him to pick it up a little bit and then he came out in the second half and had that big run, which was good. That set the tone for the rest of the game.”

Harper, who backed up 2,300-yard passer Park Penrod last year, was solid in his first varsity start. He connected with fellow sophomore Peyton Faulkner on a 35-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Faulkner had four receptions for 51 yards.

Quaker Valley also sports a young roster with only three seniors. The Quakers were hampered by 10 penalties for 90 yards, including a false start after Cutchember’s opening 32-yard run that set off a sequence where they lost 20 yards over the next three plays.

“(Avonworth) is big and strong. They’re coming off a big season, they have strong numbers on that sideline, and they’re always well-coached,” Quaker Valley coach Ron Balog said. “That made it tough on our young guys. We had a couple of injuries that made our young team even younger, but we absolutely loved the way they kept fighting. They wouldn’t give up. Despite the score, I thought they fought their tails off and that’s all you can ask for. You have to be patient with a young group.”

The Quakers had an opportunity to score late in the second quarter after an interception by Nate Dicks set them up deep in Avonworth territory, but they turned the ball over on downs in the final minute.

Cutchember forced and recovered a fumble early in the second.

Dicks’ interception and Cutchember’s fumble recovery are moments Balog wants to use as building blocks for his team going forward.

“The key here is that we want to stay positive with these guys,” Balog said. “You have to stay positive with a young group and tell them to put this behind them and learn from their mistakes.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game at Trib HSSN.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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