‘Unheard-of’ playoff miss drives Avonworth
Saturday, August 14, 2021 | 6:01 AM
In the past 20 years, 663 schools have finished with a winning percentage of .750 or better in WPIAL conference play.
Of those, 662 made the playoffs.
The lone outlier? Avonworth last season.
One year after having the most successful season in the program’s history, Avonworth last season endured one of the weirdest.
The Antelopes went 3-1 in the Northwestern 6 (4-2 overall) during the pandemic-shortened season but stayed home when the WPIAL football selection committee tabbed Mt. Pleasant (4-2) and East Allegheny (3-1) as the two Class 3A wild-card teams in the eight-team playoff bracket.
A 20-13 midseason loss to Keystone Oaks proved to be the difference for the Antelopes, who one season earlier had gone 15-1, won their first WPIAL title in 60 years and reached the state championship game.
On top of that, a covid outbreak in the Avonworth school district had forced the Antelopes’ final game, against eventual PIAA champion Central Valley, to be canceled.
“It was a lot of frustration,” said junior wide receiver Peyton Faulkner, who posted a team-high 15 receptions for 293 yards and five touchdowns. “We put a lot of work into last season and just for things to fall apart, it was a very frustrating season. Especially to not make the playoffs at 4-2 (overall). It’s almost unheard-of.”
But last season’s bitter ending fueled Avonworth during the offseason. Coach Duke Johncour, entering his 11th season, said the program held three different weightlifting sessions per day starting in February and every spot was taken.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to have a somewhat normal year after last year,” Johncour said. “They have worked really hard, the young kids especially. They have really bought in and worked and put themselves in a good position to be prepared.”
The Antelopes welcome back junior quarterback Nathan Harper, who last season passed for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns; senior running back Ian Syam, who rushed for 870 yards and 10 touchdowns; four of their five starting offensive linemen, led by 6-foot-3, 295-pound two-time all-conference left tackle Kevin Felter; and sophomore Brandon Biagiarelli, a 6-foot, 222-pounder who started at middle linebacker as a freshman.
Senior OL/DL Eric Studebaker (6-1, 220) and senior WR/DB Neo Miller also return as the Antelopes begin their second season in Class 3A.
“Our whole team has just been so motivated,” said Felter, who has an offer from Division II Clarion. “We’re going to come out every night, and we are going to show everyone that we belong in the playoffs. We are a team that can make a deep playoff run this year. We have what it takes.”
Said Harper, “We are looking forward to this season, for sure.”
While Central Valley is once again expected to be the class of the conference, Avonworth is determined to decide its own postseason fate and leave nothing in the hands of the playoff committee.
Syam, who along with Felter started on the 2019 championship team, has experienced the joy of a WPIAL crown and the sorrow of last year’s playoff miss.
“We’re different this year,” Syam said. “We’ve all seen what we can do and how we can be better. We’re going to come into the games with a different mentality. This is our last show, and we want to go out on top.”
Coach: Duke Johncour
2020 record: 4-2, 3-1 in Class 3A Northwestern 6 Conference
All-time record: 420-503-15
Date, Opponent, Time
8.27 Summit Academy, 7
9.3 Apollo-Ridge, 7
9.10 at Freeport, 7
9.17 at Sto-Rox, 7
9.24 South Side Beaver, 7
10.1 Keystone Oaks*, 7
10.8 at Ambridge*, 7
10.15 Hopewell*, 7
10.22 Central Valley*, 7
10.29 at Quaker Valley*, 7
Passing: Nathan Harper
58-115, 833 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs
Receiving: Peyton Faulkner
15-293, 5 TDs
Rushing: Ian Syam
145-870, 10 TDs
• The Antelopes missed the WPIAL playoffs last season for the first time since 2007.
• Barry Johncour, 78, the head coach’s father, returns as quarterbacks coach. Johncour coached at Churchill for 16 years before the school closed in 1987 and became part of the Woodland Hills School District. He is entering his 11th season at Avonworth.
• Senior running back Ian Syam averaged 145 rushing yards per game last season. He was the third-leading rusher in Class 3A, behind Central Valley’s Landon Alexander (1,427) and South Allegheny’s Antonio Epps (1,215).
• Avonworth returns four-fifths of its offensive line: tackles Kevin Felter and Eric Studebaker, center Jermaine Woods and guard Garrett Bouvy. All four are seniors.
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