Avonworth was an underdog in its showdown with Central Valley on Friday, but, as they normally do, these Antelopes turned not to a dog, but to another animal for a much-needed jolt of energy.


More precisely, gummy bears.

“They give you some sugar, so we eat those at halftime,” senior Andrew Kuban said of the sweets.

Added teammate Brandon Biagiarelli, “We do it every game. It’s just been a tradition.”

Avonworth collected a sweet win against a team with lots of tradition Friday, as the Antelopes, ranked No. 2 in WPIAL Class 3A, snapped a halftime tie by using a strong finish to defeat Class 4A No. 4 Central Valley, 28-20, in front of a large crowd at Avonworth’s Lenzner Field.

“Huge statement win,” said Avonworth coach Duke Johncour, whose team won at Grove City, 35-14, in Week 0.

Johncour couldn’t be any more right. In beating a program that had won 52 of its previous 56 games and has captured five WPIAL and two PIAA titles in its 14-year history, Avonworth served notice that it is a real threat to knock defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Belle Vernon from its championship perch a season after falling to the Leopards, 24-7, in the district final.

Until Friday, many might have considered Belle Vernon, led by Penn State recruit Quinton Martin, to be the heavy favorite in the classification. While it’s safe to say the Leopards are still the favorite, the word “heavy” appears to no longer be an appropriate adjective. 

“[Central Valley has] had our number for the last few years, so this feels really good,” Kuban said.

For Avonworth (2-0), this was a much different result against Central Valley (1-1), which ran over the Antelopes on its way to 43-6 and 37-22 victories the past two seasons. Avonworth shockingly raced to a 14-0 lead Friday and never trailed in the game.

On the first night of September, Avonworth used some timely offense and a tremendous effort from its defense to pull off one of the most impressive wins by any WPIAL team early this season. 

First, the defense, which forced four turnovers, allowed only 244 total yards, and used a couple of goal-line stands to frustrate Central Valley. Hunter Blackson’s strip sack gave Avonworth the ball in the red zone and Biagiarelli followed with a 6-yard touchdown run to put the Antelopes in front, 21-14, with 1:36 left in the third.

The biggest sequence in the game came with just 3:08 left. Central Valley quarterback Steven Rutherford scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 21-20. Warriors coach Mark Lyons then elected to go for two points just like he did the previous week when his team rallied for a 36-35 win at Austintown Fitch, Ohio. However, this time the 2-point try was unsuccessful. On what was a wild play, Central Valley running back Mason Dixon was stuffed, but he tossed the ball back to Rutherford, who took off toward the left pylon. It appeared Rutherford might get in, but Jackson Vogt pushed him out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

“It was ridiculous,” Biagiarelli said. “Bend not break. That’s our mindset. It’s something we preach.”

Freshman Jance Henry scored on a 15-yard touchdown run in Central Valley’s 28-20 loss at Avonworth. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Kuban stretched the Avonworth lead to 28-20 courtesy of his 1-yard touchdown run with 1:35 to go, but Central Valley wasn’t done yet. Rutherford found freshman Jance Henry (the impressive ninth grader had a 15-yard touchdown run in the first half) for a long gain to the Avonworth 25. But Kuban picked off a Rutherford pass in the end zone with 10 seconds left to preserve the giant win.

“We played as a team,” Kuban said. “We were gap-sound and just played our game. We needed everybody to do it, and we did.”

Avonworth got strong play from its four senior captains — Biagiarelli, Kuban, Blackson and Nick Fenters. Biagiarelli and Kuban, specifically, had special nights. Each scored two touchdowns, Kuban’s first coming on a beautiful 74-yard catch-and-run from Carson Bellinger. Biagiarelli’s 2-yard run provided Avonworth with its other first-half touchdown.

Biagiarelli and Kuban were both all-conference honorees last season and are considered among the top players in Class 3A. Biagiarelli is a Bucknell recruit, while Kuban has not yet committed to a school.

“Andrew is a super player, and it’s a crime he doesn’t have any Division I offers,” Biagiarelli said.

Make no bones about it, for underdog Avonworth, this was a huge win. And by the looks of it, the next time the Antelopes have an underdog label attached to their name, it might not be until the WPIAL final.

“Why not us?” Biagiarelli wondered aloud afterward. “We believed in ourselves, and we knew we could get it done.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.