Avonworth overcomes early deficit to defeat Sto-Rox in wild game

Friday, September 9, 2022 | 11:59 PM

Friday night at Lenzner Field was nothing if not a bit bizarre.

Avonworth and Sto-Rox each recovered one of their own kickoffs, there were a combined 25 penalties and five turnovers and a comeback from an early double-digit hole.

In the end, power football and two key takeaways lifted the Antelopes (2-1) to a 21-18 nonconference win over Sto-Rox.

“It was really crazy,” said Avonworth tailback Luke Hilyard, who ran for 151 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. “There were so many interceptions, so many plays by everyone. But we came out and executed, and I’m really happy about that.”

Early on, however, it appeared the Vikings might run away with it. Sto-Rox (0-2) recovered the opening kickoff, a mishandled squib. Five plays later, Vikings quarterback Josh Jenkins hit Diego Ellis for a 4-yard score.

On Sto-Rox’s next offensive series, Jenkins found Zay Davis, who took off on a spectacular, weaving run after the catch for a 48-yard score, extending the Vikings’ lead to 12-0.

“We talk about being calm and fighting through adversity,” Antelopes coach Duke Johncour said. “We started the game in an adverse situation. They came out and scored two quick touchdowns on us and put it right in the end zone.”

But Avonworth’s defense stiffened after that. Sto-Rox failed to score on its next seven series. Included in that was a fumble by Jenkins that led to a 15-yard run by Hilyard on the next play.

Avonworth then gave the Vikings a dose of their own medicine, recovering the ensuing kickoff. Brandon Biagiarelli scored on a 1-yard run to give Avonworth its second touchdown in less than five minutes and a 14-12 lead.

That score held for nearly 25 minutes, despite a number of big plays from the Vikings, who racked up 416 yards of offense, with 323 coming off the arm of Jenkins.

But Sto-Rox consistently killed its own momentum, committing 16 penalties for 124 yards.

“It’s what I’ve been trying to work on since I’ve been here,” said first-year Vikings coach Marvin Mills. “It’s discipline. When you lose discipline, bad things happen. When penalties mount up, penalties turn into touchdowns.”

After halftime, The Antelopes rushed for 134 yards and began to impose their will at the line of scrimmage, including a 13-play, 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 21-12.

“They were tired,” Johncour said of Sto-Rox. “We had more numbers than they did, more bodies out there that weren’t going two ways. That was a big help. We moved the ball pretty well down the stretch.”

Added Hilyard: “Our rush game, we knew that we had it on them. We tried to pass on them in the first quarter, and it wasn’t working too well. We went in at halftime and talked with coaches and went out on offense and executed the rush.”

Still, Sto-Rox’s dynamic passing attack gave them a chance. But red zone interceptions by Biagiarelli and Andrew Kuban, on consecutive series, kept the Vikings from scoring.

“Huge, absolutely huge,” Johncour said of the takeaways. “Our defense came up big in those situations. It was the big difference in the game.”

All is not lost for Sto-Rox. The Vikings, who lost just one game last season, haven’t won yet but also played the top team in Class 2A, Steel Valley, and the second-ranked team in Class 3A. Both games were decided by three points.

“We’re still in a decent position. We start conference play next week,” said Mills, who will prepare for a trip to Charleroi next Friday. “We’ll get back at it. We’ll regroup and get things together.”

Avonworth, meanwhile, passed a big test after a loss to Central Valley last week.

“Conference play is going to be really good,” Hilyard said. “We open up with Hopewell. I think that’ll be good. We’ll just keep doing out thing.”

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