Avonworth running game revs up in 2nd half of quarterfinal win over Beaver

Friday, November 10, 2023 | 11:42 PM

With their undefeated season on the line, only leading by a touchdown at halftime, No. 2 Avonworth turned to its run game to open the second half.

That propelled the Antelopes to a 41-21 win over No. 7 Beaver in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals at Lenzner Field at Avonworth on Friday night.

Leading 13-7 at halftime, the Antelopes (11-0) started to get their run game going. Freshman running back Dimitri Velsarsis rushed for 61 yards on the opening drive of the second half, capped off by a 29-yard run as he weaved through the holes created by the Lopes offensive line to give Avonworth a 20-7 lead.

Velsarsis led the Lopes with 201 yards rushing on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns.

“He’s a tough little sucker,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “He’s a wrestler. He’s hard-nosed. He runs hard. He’s 155 pounds and runs like he’s 200.”

After a quick three-and-out by the Bobcats (9-3), the Lopes returned to their run game. This time they featured their wildcat offense led by senior Andrew Kuban, who capped off the drive with his second 1-yard touchdown run of the game to give Avonworth a 27-7 lead with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter.

Kuban finished with 168 yards rushing on 13 carries. Kuban also caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

After the two touchdown runs in the third quarter, the Antelopes’ defense did its part to keep Avonworth’s season alive. Avonworth’s defense caused three turnovers in the second half – two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

“(Beaver) had some really good players and they made some really good plays,” Johncour said. “I thought we came out and we did what we needed to do. In the second half, we ran the ball really well and made some pass completions.

“We made too many mistakes with penalties, but our kids were resilient and they played through it. They rebounded from those mistakes and they capitalized on the opportunities that were given to us.”

Avonworth ended Beaver’s season for the second year in the row in the quarterfinals. The Lopes beat the Bobcats, 28-7, last season. Earlier this year, the Bobcats gave Avonworth its toughest test of the season when they nearly beat the Lopes at home but fell 33-28 in the end.

With the win, Avonworth will move on to face No. 3 Elizabeth Forward in the semifinals at a site to be determined next Friday. The Warriors beat No. 6 West Mifflin, 42-21.

“It’s exciting to be here,” Johncour said. “Our team is ready. They are hungry from last year. We’re excited to be where we are at and we are excited for next week.”

The Lopes will look to return to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game after losing to Belle Vernon last year.

On the opening drive of the game, the Bobcats methodically drove down the field on an eight-play, 63-yard march that was capped off by a 1-yard run by junior running back Qualan Cain to give Beaver a 7-0 lead early on the road.

The opening drive featured Beaver’s passing game that included a 32-yard connection down the left sideline between sophomore quarterback Travis Clear and junior receiver Amari Jackson that brought the ball into the red zone.

Jackson finished with five receptions for 218 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown pass from junior Brady Mayo in the fourth quarter.

The Lopes shook off the Bobcats’ opening drive and tied the game on their own drive. Senior running back Brandon Biagiarelli capped off the drive with a 1-yard run up the middle. Avonworth’s drive was aided by a costly facemask by Beaver on a run by Velsarsis.

On the Bobcats’ second drive of the game, Beaver looked to have taken the lead right back; however, a Bobcat penalty wiped out a Cain 75-yard touchdown run as Beaver was forced to punt later in the drive.

In the middle of the second quarter, the Bobcats had a chance to get off the field with the score tied but the Lopes decided to run their wildcat package with Kuban on fourth-and-1.

Kuban got the yard and way more as he scampered for a 66-yard run down to the 1-yard line, where he put it in the end zone on the next play to give the Antelopes a 13-7 lead with 5:01 remaining in the first half.

Beaver reached the quarterfinals by beating Shady Side Academy, 42-7, last week.

“We are getting there but we aren’t there yet,” Beaver coach Cort Rowse said. “It just means we’ve got more work in the offseason. We have this whole group coming back, basically. We just need to understand to get where we want to be, we need to play mistake-free football. We need to get ourselves stronger and bigger.”

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