Avonworth’s Jax Miller puts on a show in WPIAL championship victory over Washington

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Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 2:50 PM


Avonworth relied on the big men up front and the legs of senior running back Jax Miller to record a 28-6 victory over Washington to claim the WPIAL Class 2A championship Saturday at Norwin High School.

It’s the second title for the Antelopes, who were declared co-champions with Union after the teams tied in the 1959 WPIAL championship game.

Miller ran 43 times for 291 yards and four touchdowns, including two first-half 1-yard scores.

It was the fourth time Miller topped 100 yards in this year’s playoffs. He rushed for 138, 216 and 255 yards in wins over Southmoreland, New Brighton and Riverside. The effort also served as his 10th 100-plus yard game. He eclipsed 200 yards for the sixth time. Miller’s also over 2,200 yards for the season.

“My mindset was to run as hard as I could, put my shoulder down and get as many yards as I could,” Miller said. “This was the most carries I have ever had in a game, and I was really winded. I was just trying to catch my breath and keep getting yards.”

While discussing the process that led to a WPIAL title for Avonworth, Miller used an architecture analogy.

“We talked about building a foundation,” he said. “There’s a building in San Francisco that is sinking because they only (dug so deep) into the ground, which wasn’t enough to secure the building. Now they have to re-do the building.

“We focused 250 feet into the ground. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, just set a foundation for the kids coming after us.”

Miller was referencing the Millennium Tower in San Francisco. Completed in 2009, the building’s foundation wasn’t deep enough, according to experts. As of 2018, it had sunk 17 inches and tilted more than a foot. It’s going to cost more than $100 million to correct the problem.

Avonworth’s football program has no such issues. Its foundation is now dug deep into the ground, and above it is a Class 2A WPIAL title.

Washington (13-1) received the ball first and fumbled it away on a botched handoff by senior quarterback Zack Swartz on its second play from scrimmage.

Park Penrod, the senior signal caller of the ‘Lopes (14-0), threw an interception on Avonworth’s first play, before Duke Johncour’s team started simply handing the ball to Miller.

“Whatever weight was on his shoulders, he carried it pretty well,” Johncour said. “He’s not under the radar anymore. We knew what we had in (Miller). He’s a workhorse, a fun kid to coach. He’s a special player.”

After a Washington punt and consecutive turnovers on downs, Miller capped a four-play, 33-yard drive with his first 1-yard touchdown run.

On Avonworth’s next possession, Miller capped a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive with another 1-yard run. The drive included a 16-yard rush that put Miller over the 100-yard mark. He had 157 yards on 21 first-half carries, while Washington had just 39 total offensive yards in the first 24 minutes.

“They got the best of us up front. That’s probably the No. 1 key,” Washington head coach Mike Bosnic said. “We’ve made some big plays, and probably one of the biggest issues we’ve had all season is being consistent. We couldn’t establish the run, and then when we threw the ball, they were able to beat us, even sometimes one on one.”

The steady dose of Miller picked up in the third quarter. Avonworth received the opening kick of the half, and Miller carried the ball on every snap of a 13-play, 71-yard drive capped by his third 1-yard score.

What appeared to be a solid drive on the ensuing possession for Washington stalled with a 16-yard sack on a third-and-9 from the Avonworth 49-yard line.

After the Washington punt that followed the sack, Avonworth failed on fourth down inside the 10-yard line to give the Prexies the ball back.

That drive ended quickly, but the Prexies got the ball right back after Miller fumbled at the end of a 10-yard run. Still, it was more of the same for Washington’s offense, which didn’t even get a first down.

The ‘Lopes then used four plays and handed to Miller for a fourth 1-yard touchdown run, bringing it to 28-0.

“I told him your night is done. Take a seat and enjoy it,” Johncour said.

Miller said it was easily the best game the offensive line has played all season.

Swartz added the only Washington score with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining on a 5-yard run. He carried the ball seven times for 69 yards on the drive. The Prexies tried for two and failed.

Washington, is now 1-8 all-time against undefeated opponents in WPIAL playoff action, with the lone win coming for the Prexies’ last title, a 2017 win over Steel Valley. The Prexies were in search of their eighth WPIAL crown.

“This stings, but anytime you’re playing this late in the season and for a WPIAL championship, the season is a success,” Bosnic said. “I love this team, this senior class. This hurts. It’s the end of that group’s run. There’s some special players there.”

Avonworth advances to the PIAA semifinals, as the district title game served as a quarterfinal in the state playoffs. The ‘Lopes will play District 10 champion Wilmington next Friday or Saturday at a site and time to be determined. Wilmington defeated D-9 champion Ridgway-Johnsonburg Friday night and will be looking for a third-straight trip to Hershey.

The ‘Lopes, meanwhile, will try to continue to lay that foundation.

“I’ve been the head coach I think for eight years now and every year we’ve maintained and built and sewn into that foundation,” Johncour said. “Zach Chandler, a player who was on a cart in Heinz Field (in 2014), talked to them in the locker room this morning. There’s a lot that have come before these guys, but they’re continuing to lay that foundation that is solid. We’re proud of our guys.”

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