Avonworth stops Riverside’s run, reaches WPIAL Class 2A final

Friday, November 15, 2019 | 10:45 PM

While Avonworth has relied on a powerful offense that averages 37 points per game, two key stops by the Antelopes defense were crucial in Friday’s first half.

Stopping Riverside on downs twice inside the 10-yard line paved the way for a 41-14 victory in a WPIAL Class 2A semifinal at West Allegheny.

Jax Miller ran for 255 yards and four touchdowns while Andrew Tedesco returned an interception 27 yards for a score early in the second half.

The Antelopes (13-0) will play Washington at noon Saturday, Nov. 23 at Norwin. Avonworth will be seeking its first outright WPIAL title. The Antelopes tied Union Area, 13-13, in 1959.

Riverside finished 9-4.

“Our defense was strong in the red zone,” Avonworth coach Duke Joncour said. “”We answered the call when we needed to on fourth down a couple of times and we closed the door. That was huge for our defense to be able to shut them out in the first half.”

Down just 7-0 in the first quarter, Riverside drove to the Antelopes’ 4. After a sack by Drew Harper cost the Panthers 15 yards, Ethan Syam stopped Nate Sciarro on the 16th play of the drive.

Following the first of two Josh Bishop interceptions, Riverside drove to the Antelopes’ 4 only to have Hunter Nulph stopped by the middle of the Avonworth defense.

“That hurt when we were down in there twice and didn’t get it,” Panthers coach Ron Sciarro said. “But they’re a good football team. I give them all the credit in the world. They were physical and we had a couple of opportunities there but didn’t cash in and they took it to us.”

The Antelopes capitalized on a tipped pass to Theo Newhouse for 34 yards to get some breathing room. The completion set up a 51-yard scoring run by Miller on fourth down.

“I feel like our defense is the most underrated in the WPIAL,” said Miller, a safety. “It’s not just the communication. It’s the chemistry.”

After deferring on the opening kickoff, Avonworth took the second half kick and ran Miller from the Wildcat formation. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound senior handled the ball on eight of nine plays, scoring on a 12-yard run to give the Antelopes a 20-0 advantage.

Fifty-two seconds later, Andrew Tedesco picked off a pass at the 27 and found a path to the end zone to make it 27-0 Antelopes with 9 minutes, 2 seconds left in the third period to virtually seal the decision.

Said Miller: “I would say the wildcat was definitely one of the differences in the game. It’s hard to defend a read option. We work on it repetitively during practice.”

Riverside again drove to the Avonworth 22 but lost the ball on downs. That set up a 70-yard run by Miller on the first play of the fourth quarter to end his night with 255 rushing yards.

“Jax is absolutely special,” Joncour said. “He’s flying under the radar. He’s one of the best players in the WPIAL. He can play on both sides of the ball. He had a couple of big stops on defense.”

Miller now has 1,948 rushing yards on the season and 24 touchdowns.

Hughes engineered two scoring drives for the Panthers in the fourth period and finished with 173 passing yards, 147 of those to Bishop.

Riverside entered the playoffs as the No. 14 seed but opened plenty of eyes with victories over No. 3 Burgettstown and No. 6 McGuffey.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Sciarro said. “The seniors got us to the semis three out of four years. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Hughes finished the year with 2,223 passing yards and 30 touchdowns.

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