Electrifying Quinton Martin sparks Belle Vernon to WPIAL Class 3A title win over Avonworth

Friday, November 25, 2022 | 7:26 PM

Attendance at Acrisure Stadium for the WPIAL Class 3A football championship: Quinton Martin … and everyone else.

Martin electrified the crowd with a highlight-reel, 51-yard punt return touchdown, caught a TD pass and ran for another score to lead Belle Vernon to its first WPIAL title since 1995 in a 24-7 victory over Avonworth on Friday evening on the North Shore.

“This feels way better than I thought it would,” said Martin, the Leopards’ junior five-star college prospect known to his teammates as “Q” who has more than 20 Power 5 scholarship offers. “Last year, we came up short. It feels unbelievable.”

Belle Vernon (10-2) was the Class 4A runner-up in 2019 and 2021.

The Leopards’ move to Class 3A changed the narrative slightly but didn’t slow the team’s drive to return to long-awaited WPIAL glory.

“Everyone wanted us to stay in 4A,” senior lineman Steve Macheska said.

But the Leopards didn’t play up, instead staying where enrollment said they belonged and taking the pressure that came with the decision.

Outside noise fueled their confidence.

“Look, a lot of people wanted to cast stones,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “We didn’t go down. We chose not to play up. We have 39 kids on this team. At the end of this all, these kids have a championship, and that is what matters.”

Back to Martin and his highlight show …

Late in the third quarter, Martin caught a punt near midfield, ran left and tip-toed the sideline before cutting back and making numerous defenders miss. He offered one last bit of pizzazz: a sidestepping juke to his right before he pranced into the end zone.

“I saw the left sideline was clear, then I cut it back,” Martin said. “I saw green.”

Humbert said Martin’s teammates played a role in his success, but Martin provided the sizzle.

“Every week, we try to figure out ways to put No. 25 (Martin) in advantageous positions,” Humbert said. “There were some phenomenal blocks on that return. Quinton showed everyone who he was.”

Top-seeded Belle Vernon rallied from an early deficit with 21 straight points to pull away from the No. 2 Antelopes (11-2).

Martin also caught a 31-yard scoring pass from Braden Laux, whose first-half sack from his defensive end spot allowed the Leopards to get points in the board just before the half.

“That was a 7-on-7 play that we had in our pocket all year,” Humbert said.

Martin had 60 yards rushing on eight carries and two receptions for 41 yards.

“He’s a special player,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said of Martin. “He had three splash plays that were unbelievable. If you let him get in the open field, he’s going to make you pay.”

Martin added a 45-yard touchdown run with 8:48 left in the fourth.

Avonworth, which has won 10 in a row, was seeking its third WPIAL title and second in four years. The Antelopes had 61 plays to Belle Vernon’s 39 and outgained the Leopards, 261-170.

“They’re a physical team,” Johncour said. “We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had.”

Avonworth established the run early, rushing 14 times on its first 16 plays, with Brandon Biagierelli scoring on a 1-yard early in the second quarter for the game’s first points.

Biagierelli primarily was used in the wildcat formation.

Belle Vernon’s first points came on a 31-yard field goal by Willie Schwerha with 5:25 left in the second quarter.

The Leopards had a 12-play drive stall just inside the red zone.

Laux made the defensive play of the first half — maybe the game — with a sack late in the second quarter.

The play went for an 8-yard loss, stopped Avonworth from draining the clock and helped the Leopards get the ball back.

The momentum led to a Leopards’ touchdown: Laux’s strike to Martin.

Macheska also had a sack before the half that set the Antelopes back 9 yards.

Junior Adam LaCarte and senior Park Jewell tied with a game-high nine tackles for the Leopards.

Nate Harper completed 12 of 25 passes for 127 yards for the Antelopes. Andrew Kuban had five catches for 67 yards.

Elvin Le had an interception for Avonworth.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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