Avonworth wary of Cinderella Riverside in Class AA semifinals

Thursday, November 14, 2019 | 6:01 AM

With two big playoff victories in the hopper already, Riverside isn’t playing like a typical No. 14 seed.

The Panthers (9-3) have defeated No. 3 Burgettstown in overtime and No. 6 seed McGuffey last week.

But Avonworth coach Duke Johncour knows a team doesn’t win games at this time of year by accident.

“They might be a 14 seed, but if one game goes differently, they’d have the potential of, maybe, a seven seed,” Johncour said. “So the seed is kind of misleading. They’ve had a good team over a four-year stretch.”

This is the third time in the last four seasons that Riverside had made the semifinals. The Panthers are seeking their first berth in the finals since 1993.

Riverside will take on Avonworth (12-0) in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at West Allegheny High School.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Riverside coach Ron Sciarro said. “We had a slow start against Burgettstown, then we had a fast start against McGuffey and our kids were told we have to start better.”

A better start was touchdowns the first five times the Panthers had the ball en route to a 41-27 victory. Quarterback Ben Hughes had 191 rushing yards and scored touchdowns from 7, 8, 4 and 4 yards out.

“We knew all along he could run,” Sciarro said of Hughes. “But we only have 27 kids, so you have to be careful what you do, but we decided to turn him loose.”

Hughes had only 89 rushing yards going into the McGuffey game.

A quality passer, Hughes has 2,050 passing yards this season for 29 touchdowns.

Avonworth will be seeking its first WPIAL championship game appearance since losing to Clairton in 2014 at Heinz Field. The Antelopes shared a WPIAL title in 1959 with Union Area in a 13-13 game at Geneva College’s Reeves Field.

Avonworth has made the playoffs all nine seasons of Johncour’s tutelage. His record there is 68-29.

“We’re excited to be where we are,” Johncour said. “We’ve had a good run and we’ve been able to do some special things.”

Spearheading the Antelopes’ attack has been running back Jax Miller, who had 216 yards and two touchdowns in 27 carries in the 38-13 win over New Brighton last Friday. Miller has 1,683 yards on the season and leads the team in scoring with 175 points.

Quarterback Park Penrod has 1,773 passing yards and has thrown for 26 touchdowns.

Johncour credits the play of returning linemen from last year — center Ryan Paskiewicz and tackles Josh Elm and Kevin Felder to help pace the attack.

For Riverside, Nate Sciarro has 63 pass receptions and Josh Bishop 44.

Coach Sciarro gives credit to linemen Payne Hoover, a 5-foot-11, 260-pound junior, and Avery Wolf, a 6-1, 245-pound freshman, for propelling the offense.

Sciarro is in his second stint at Riverside. From 1987-94, his team was a three-time WPIAL Class AA runner-up. Sciarro returned to Riverside in 2016. His overall record is 108-64-3.

The two schools met in the 2017 playoffs, with Riverside winning a 42-14 quarterfinal.

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