No rest for hungry Avonworth after historic run

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020 | 11:45 PM


It was a season to remember for the Avonworth football team.

The Antelopes rolled to the program’s second WPIAL title and remained undefeated until falling to Southern Columbia in the PIAA Class 2A championship contest in Hershey.

“It was an incredible ride, week in and week out,” said Avonworth coach Duke Johncour, who guided his team to a 15-1 overall record in 2019. “We had a good team, but we didn’t know how good. The kids put into play what they had worked so hard for, and to see them achieve all of that success was very special.”

The Antelopes turned the page in the offseason and made the move up to Class 3A. Despite losing eight all-conference performers to graduation, Johncour said the returning starters and letterwinners, as well as others hoping to rise to the occasion this fall, came back hungry for another run.

That was evident, Johncour said, in offseason workouts, from a two-month period before the covid shutdown to self-workouts during quarantine and the return to team activities within the past two months.

“The enthusiasm for the team and wanting to build off the success we had is there in these kids,” Johncour said. “We have about 55 on the roster, and we had about 40 consistently at (summer) workouts. They also did a great job of being ready with work on their own or in groups during the time off. There is a lot of good leadership among these returning players.”

The Harper brothers, Drew the senior and Nate the sophomore, are expected to figure prominently in Avonworth’s plans for success.

Nate will take over at quarterback for the graduated Park Penrod, who threw for more than 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago.

Drew is a four-year starter and hopes to be a difference maker at wide receiver, as well as linebacker or strong safety. He recorded 55 tackles and 8½ sacks last year.

“They work out together, they run together, and they throw together,” Johncour said. “Drew had a great season last year as a junior and is a great leader for us. Nate is really following in his brother’s footsteps. You can see that strong family chemistry and bond.”

Drew Harper likes the way the team is coming together.

“There is a new sense of excitement (with the PIAA announcement) since we know for sure there is a season,” he said. “The captains and the seniors, we’ve been telling the team the whole time to focus on having the season and doing the things necessary to be prepared as best as possible.

“Our senior core, most of us have been starting for four years. We also have a lot of kids returning who are younger. Last year, we had a lot of opportunities to get them varsity experience. We still have some things to work on, but I like the way things are going.”

Johncour said he also is impressed with the senior leadership of multi-year returning starters Trevor Faulkner (tight end/defensive end) and Stephen Ezar (offensive guard/defensive tackle).

Ezar will form the core of both lines with 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior Kevin Felter (offensive tackle/defensive tackle).

Felter and Faulkner earned first-team All-Allegheny Conference honors for both offense and defense last year.

Junior Ian Syam, Johncour said, is expected to see a heavier workload after the graduation of 2,000-yard rusher Jax Miller. Syam recorded 660 yards and three touchdowns on 81 carries last year.

“Ian had a really nice sophomore season,” Johncour said. “Jax would kind of wear a team down, and Ian would come in, and he was a different style of runner.”

Syam also returns in the secondary. He led the team with four interceptions in 2019.

Junior outside linebacker Ashton Navillat led the returning players with 56 tackles last year.

Those also expected to contribute this season include seniors Aaron Fresh (linebacker) and Justin Pukylo (wide receiver); juniors Erik Studebacker (offensive line), Gus Newhouse (wide receiver), Tyler Schleis (wide receiver/safety) and Ezra Tomko (safety); and sophomore Peyton Faulkner (wide receiver).

Avonworth joins the Northwestern Six Conference and will face a group that includes defending WPIAL Class 3A champion and PIAA runner-up Central Valley, as well as Ambridge, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks and Quaker Valley.

The Antelopes open their truncated season Sept. 11 at home against Quaker Valley and wrap up the regular season Oct. 23 at Central Valley.

“It’s a new conference with new opponents at a new level,” Johncour said. “That has created a lot of excitement and anticipation. Every game will be a challenge, but I know we will be ready.

“If we can stay healthy, which is always an important factor, I like what this team can accomplish.”

Schedule

Coach: Duke Johncour

2019 record: 15-1, 6-0 in Class 2A Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 416-501-15

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Quaker Valley*, 7

9.18, Sto-Rox, 7

9.25, at South Side, 7

10.2, at Keystone Oaks*, 7

10.9, Ambridge*, 7

10.16, at Hopewell*, 7

10.23, at Central Valley*, 7

*Class 3A Northwestern 6 Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Park Penrod*

137-263, 2,140 yards, 31 TDs

Receiving: Theo Newhouse*

30-584 yards, 9 TDs

Rushing: Jax Miller*

313-2,362 yards, 29 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Avonworth averaged 206.6 rushing yards a game last year and added 138.4 per game through the air.

• The Antelopes’ other WPIAL football championship came in 1959 when they shared the Class A title with Union.

• Avonworth ranked fifth in Class 2A last year in points allowed at 14.9 a game. That number was skewed by the uncharacteristic 74 it gave up to Southern Columbia in the PIAA final.

• Johncour, who enters his 10th season as head coach, owns a 73-30 overall record at the helm. The Antelopes have made the playoffs each season.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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