Wildcat attack sparks dominant 3rd quarter as Avonworth runs away from West Mifflin

Saturday, September 30, 2023 | 12:46 AM

There was no fiery halftime speech, but instead, one offensive adjustment had Avonworth looking like a different team in the third quarter.

The Antelopes turned to the wildcat.

Wide receiver Andrew Kuban started taking direct snaps and scored on a pair of rushing touchdowns 28 seconds apart Friday night as Avonworth showed its strength in a 38-14 victory over West Mifflin in the Western Hills.

Kuban scored on runs of 18 and 29 yards, breaking open what had been a tight, three-point game at half. The senior ran the ball on five of six plays to start the third, and reached the end zone twice.

“You put the ball in one of your best athlete’s hands,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “What can go wrong with that? Not much.”

Kuban finished with only 55 yards on five carries, but the commitment to a physical run game and his ability to find the end zone had an obvious impact.

Avonworth outscored West Mifflin, 21-0, in the third quarter, and eventually scored 38 consecutive points. Freshman teammate Dimitri Velisaris led with 174 rushing yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns.

It was Velisaris who set up Kuban’s first touchdown with a 53-yard run on third down, extending the first drive after halftime.

Combined, the Antelopes rushed for 310 yards on 36 carries. Nico Neal added 72 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

“The O-line did their job and got a push,” Kuban said, “and I feel like we wanted it more. We bonded as a team.”

The win kept No. 3 Avonworth (6-0, 3-0) undefeated and atop the Western Hills standings. The Antelopes are the defending conference champions.

West Mifflin (2-4, 1-1) seemed in position for an upset after scoring first on a 40-yard touchdown run by DelRon White, and was down just 10-7 at half.

But a four-minute span in the third doomed West Mifflin’s chances. After Kuban’s first touchdown, White lost a fumble on the next play, setting up Avonworth with a short field.

When Kuban scored one play later, West Mifflin trailed, 24-7.

“Four minutes were the difference in the game,” West Mifflin coach Rod Steele said. “Besides that, I thought our kids fought. … Hopefully, we can continue on and we’ll have an opportunity to see these guys down the road.”

White led West Mifflin with 128 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Senior safety David Fleming led the defense with two interceptions in the first half.

Avonworth’s lead reached 31-7 in the third quarter after a 6-yard touchdown run by Velisaris. A 10-yarder by Velisaris early in the fourth made the lead 38-7.

The Antelopes’ second half was much better than their first, when they scored just one touchdown, made a 26-yard field goal and threw two interceptions.

Avonworth’s defense, bolstered by the return of injured all-conference linebacker Brandon Biagiarelli, recovered two second-half fumbles. West Mifflin’s offense was held to 19 yards in the third quarter while Avonworth had 148.

“We made it through a couple of turnovers and made some mistakes, but that’s the game of football,” Johncour said. “We capitalized on some of their mistakes in the second half.”

Kuban said he’d been practicing the wildcat for months. Avonworth had used the direct-snap offense in years past with success, but hadn’t tried it yet this fall.

“Since April, we’ve been working on it every once in a while,” Kuban said. “We needed to use it today. It worked.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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