Motivated Belle Vernon defense delivers shutout of Avonworth

Friday, November 24, 2023 | 9:30 PM

Belle Vernon got tired of all the negative talk this season, especially from Avonworth.

The No. 1-ranked Leopards wanted a shutout more than anything Friday in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at Acrisure Stadium.

The defense posted its third shutout of the season, blanking Avonworth, 26-0, for Belle Vernon’s second consecutive WPIAL title and third in school history.

Avonworth (11-1) rushed for 127 yards and threw for 66 yards. Each time the Antelopes threatened in Belle Vernon territory, the Leopards defense buckled down and turned them away.

“We took this personal,” Belle Vernon defensive coordinator Brett Berish said. “We wanted the shutout. Every article we read about them has been about wanting Belle Vernon. This was special.”

The Leopards’ front sacked quarterback Carson Bellinger twice and forced him to scramble repeatedly.

Berish said the defensive line of ends Braden Laux and Aiden Johnson and tackles Luke Bryer and Dave Levi controlled the interior, which allowed linebackers Tanner Moody, Colton Lee, Deaubre Lightfoot, Kole Doppelheuer, Alonzo Wade, Jake Gedekoh and Dom Ghilani to make plays.

Quinton Martin, Adam LaCarte and Anthony Crews played well in the secondary.

“They talked a lot on X (formerly Twitter),” Moody said. “They talked all season about wanting us. I’m pretty happy that we put up a zero on the board.”

Moody was the Leopards’ leading tackler with nine stops. LaCarte had eight tackles and an interception.

Avonworth was 0 of 10 on third down and 0 for 4 on fourth down.

“We went out and did our jobs,” Bryer said. “Our coaches prepared us well. Now we get donuts on Sunday.”

The Leopards’ defense also contributed points when Ghilani sacked Bellinger in the end zone.

Berish said that he couldn’t do it without the help of his assistants: Jeff Ogrodowski, Michael Steeber, Scott Bryer, Aaron Szakal, Frank Muccino and Logan Pfrogner.

“It was huge getting the shutout,” Wade said. “We prepared all week and came out and did our jobs. We adjusted to what they were doing, and the credit goes to our coaching staff for preparing us.”

Lee added: “We gave up a couple plays, but we were able to shut them down on the next. We’ve done that all season.”

Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said the game wasn’t pretty, but he felt his offensive and defensive lines stood out.

“These games aren’t supposed to be pretty,” Humbert said. “This was a good one. They wanted us, and I think we had a little extra incentive.”

Now the Leopards advance to the PIAA semifinals, where they will face Hickory on Dec. 1 or 2.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at


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