WPIAL football player of the week — Week 13
Sunday, November 24, 2019 | 9:29 PM
Avonworth relied heavily on a Jax of all trades, who mastered them all.
Senior Jax Miller went wild from the wildcat as he rushed for 291 yards on 43 carries in leading Avonworth past Washington, 28-6, in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game Saturday afternoon.
The title was the first outright football championship in school history and the first one in 60 years since the Antelopes tied Union, 6-6, in the 1959 Class A finals.
“Whatever weight was on his shoulders, he carried it pretty well,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said about Miller. “He has flown under the radar a little bit. I don’t think he’s under the radar anymore.”
Most of the yards gained by Miller came with him running out of the wildcat formation as he took the direct snap and followed his blockers for chunks of yards on time-consuming drives.
“We didn’t run wildcat until Week 8,” Johncour said. “We (practiced) it all season long. We knew what we had in this kid. It’s a testament to him. He’s a workhorse. He’s a fun kid to coach.”
Four long scoring drives with Miller doing the damage on the ground were capped by four touchdown runs of 1 yard each as the Antelopes built a 28-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
“My mindset was just run as hard as I could,” Miller said. “I knew they were going to line up in a 4 or 5-2 (defense), and we just needed to create as many holes as we could.”
The 43 carries by Miller were a career high. Considering he led the team in tackles and had two sacks on defense, as well, he was understandably gassed near the end of the game.
“This is the most winded I’ve been,” Miller said. “I was down on the field, just hanging over and catching my breath, trying to run it as much as I could.”
The performance gave Miller 2,230 yards rushing this season with 29 touchdowns. He has 910 total yards and 11 touchdowns in the Antelopes’ four postseason wins.
Miller tried to deflect credit after the game.
“It means a lot to make history with my team,” he said. “I don’t want to take too much credit for it. It was definitely a team thing and not just one player.”
After beating previously undefeated Washington, Avonworth will play in their first PIAA semifinal game when they face undefeated District 10 champion Wilmington.
When Miller scored his fourth touchdown to seal the championship in the fourth quarter, his coach had a special message when he came to the bench.
“I said your night’s done,” Johncour said. “Good job. Take a seat on the bench, and enjoy it.”
WPIAL Week 13 honorable mentions
Bryson Venanzio, Gateway
On an evening when steady rain normally would dictate a strong running game, Gateway took to the air to secure a second WPIAL championship in three years.
Senior quarterback Venanzio continued his strong season in the Class 5A title game against a strong Peters Township defense.
Venanzio connected on 17 of 28 passes for 242 yards and touchdown passes of 40 yards to Chamor Price and 61 yards to Patrick Body as the Gators held on for a 21-20 victory.
Gannon Carothers, Central Catholic
Central Catholic junior running back Eddy Tillman had another big game with 168 rushing yards. Senior teammate Johnathan Opalko kicked his second straight winning field goal, this one from 37 yards with 68 seconds left in regulation.
But when they needed a big play, it was seldom-used sophomore wide receiver Carothers who answered the call.
Carothers caught three passes for 128 yards, but two of those catches went for touchdowns of 65 and 26 yards to tie the game after Central Catholic fell behind 14-0. The Vikings went on to knock off State College, 24-21, to advance to the PIAA Class 6A final Four.
Dylan Mallozzi, Thomas Jefferson
There will be a new sheriff in the PIAA Class 4A. Nobody will be surprised if that new king is draped in black and gold.
Thomas Jefferson senior Mallozzi was the Week 12 Trib HSSN Player of the Week. He defended that honor with another big night as he started the scoring with a 2-yard run and closed the game with a 33-yard touchdown.
In between, Mallozzi rushed for 162 yards in leading the Jaguars to a 28-13 triumph over the three-time defending champion Cathedral Prep Ramblers in a 4A state quarterfinal game.
2019 Trib HSSN football players of the week:
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.