Going into the season, it was already well known that bruising senior running back-linebacker Brandon Biagiarelli was the heart and soul of Avonworth’s football team. But just in case that wasn’t clear, the Bucknell recruit issued a reminder by rushing for 201 yards on opening night, then followed that up with a pair of touchdowns to help lead the Antelopes to a massive 28-20 upset win over Central Valley on Sept. 1.
So when Biagiarelli went down with a leg injury in Avonworth’s third game of the season against Sto-Rox, Antelopes fans may have felt like their championship dreams had just gone down with him. Yet here we are in late October, and Class 3A No. 2 Avonworth (8-0, 4-0) has still yet to lose a game, and the Antelopes only appear to be getting stronger with the postseason fast approaching.
It has taken a total team effort for Avonworth to get to this point, but one player stands out above the rest as the team’s unquestioned MVP thus far — senior wide receiver Andrew Kuban.
Then again, labeling him as simply a wide receiver seems to be selling him a bit short at this point.
“I watched him as a freshman. I knew he had what it takes to be a talented football player,” Antelopes coach Duke Johncour said. “I call it ‘wiggle,’ and he has it. You can see that as a coach. He has definitely stepped up and is having a great year on both sides of the ball.”
After watching his seemingly indestructible best friend go down against Sto-Rox in Week 2, Kuban immediately took it upon himself to help fill the void left behind in Biagiarelli’s absence. Along with his firmly established role as Avonworth’s No. 1 wideout, Kuban took on an expanded role as an occasional Wildcat quarterback, and so far, the results speak for themselves.
Through the first eight games in 2023, Kuban ranks tied for sixth in the WPIAL in receptions (42) and seventh in receiving yards (690) — and not many of the other receivers in the top 10 can match his rushing production. In his role as Wildcat quarterback, Kuban has carried the ball 25 times for 260 yards (10.4 ypc), and he leads the team with 13 total touchdowns on the year. Oh, and he also has a 35-yard touchdown pass to his credit, and he could have had another one in an impressive 42-21 win against North Catholic last week if not for a drop.
“It was scary for sure, seeing [Biagiarelli] down. I was just praying it wasn’t too bad,” Kuban said. “I’ve done what I can to help my team, whether that’s being a vocal leader or leading by example. … I love the pressure. I love the big moments. To be able to get my name called upon in those moments is a blessing.”
With Biagiarelli now back in the fold on defense and nearing a return to full strength for the playoffs, Kuban’s role could soon be scaled back a bit to more of a traditional receiver. Then again, with how dangerous he has proven to be in the backfield, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Johncour stick with Kuban in the Wildcat for a few series per game.
“As long as we’re winning, I don’t really care who’s getting the ball,” Kuban said. “Coach [Johncour] is going to put us in the best position to win.”
Last year, Kuban finished second on the team with 21 catches for 338 yards while helping the Antelopes reach the WPIAL Class 3A championship game and earning all-conference honors at defensive back. A strong safety-outside linebacker hybrid on defense, Kuban is just as comfortable stepping up into the box and creating havoc in the backfield as he is dropping into coverage and making interceptions.
For somebody so versatile to be impacting the game in so many ways for an unbeaten championship contender, it seems like a given that Kuban would have a handful of colleges vying for his services next season. Instead, Kuban said he has yet to receive his first official scholarship offer, although Johncour said several schools are showing interest.
It could get frustrating for some, but Kuban insists he isn’t losing sleep over it. Although he would love to play football at the next level, for now his focus lies strictly on getting Avonworth back to Acrisure Stadium and turning last year’s silver medal into gold.
“With help from Carson [Bellinger] getting me the ball, we’ve just been able to really take it to the next level, and I’m grateful for that,” Kuban said. “We’ve been looking forward to this all offseason, just preparing. I think we’re ready to take it to the next level and get it done.”
West Mifflin surging at right time after rough start
Not all .500 records are created equal — just look at West Mifflin for proof.
After the battle-tested Titans (4-4, 3-1) opened up the season with a trio of nonconference losses against Class 4A No. 2 McKeesport, Class 4A No. 4 Thomas Jefferson and Class 3A No. 3 Elizabeth Forward — facing both the Tigers and Jaguars on the road — some not-so-keen observers might have left them for dead. But take a closer look at how competitive they were during that stretch compared to the rest of the teams vanquished by those three powerhouses, and you might begin to view West Mifflin’s resume in a different light.
After a season-opening 35-7 loss against McKeesport, the Titans lost to the undefeated Warriors by a respectable score of 24-7. They then battled to the end against Thomas Jefferson in a hard-fought 28-14 defeat, then bounced back with a pair of wins against Ringgold and Class 3A No. 5 Beaver before running into another unbeaten buzzsaw in a 38-14 loss at Avonworth.
Sitting at 2-4, West Mifflin wasn’t receiving much buzz at the time, but the Titans have since shot up to second place in the Western Hills Conference after back-to-back wins against Seton LaSalle and Quaker Valley, and another winnable game awaits against Hopewell at home on Friday. Freshman running back Armand Hill had a game to remember in a 57-13 win against the Quakers last week, rushing for 313 yards and four touchdowns — all in the first half.
Considering the combined record of the four opponents West Mifflin has lost to (30-2), it might be time to start considering the Titans as a serious threat in Class 3A come playoff time — although coach Rod Steele and company probably wouldn’t mind playing the underdog role.
Neshannock, Mohawk barreling toward pivotal season-ending clash
When Class 2A No. 3 Neshannock (7-1, 5-0) and Class 2A No. 4 Mohawk (7-1, 5-0) each opened the season in losing efforts way back in August, not many would have guessed the two Lawrence County rivals would be on a collision course for a de facto Midwestern Conference championship game a little more than two months later.
Each team still has business to take care of this week, but no matter what, next week’s high-stakes showdown at Neshannock should go a long way toward determining the conference champion — not to mention playing a pivotal role in Class 2A playoff seeding. Both teams have won seven games in a row since the season opener, and both have been winning in more and more impressive fashion as the season goes on.
Last week, the Lancers put up 64 points in a blowout win at Riverside, led by sophomore running back Anthony Eakin’s four-touchdown performance. Eakin rushed 10 times for 152 yards and two TDs, caught two passes for 28 yards and a TD and also added a 70-yard kick return for a score. He is now up to 710 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on only 76 carries on the year.
As for the Warriors, senior quarterback Jay Wrona has put together a stellar campaign while completing 98-of-167 attempts for 1,714 yards and a WPIAL-leading 28 touchdown passes to six interceptions — all while competing on the golf team and qualifying for the WPIAL individual championships. His favorite target, sophomore wideout Bobby Fadden, has 34 receptions for 599 yards and 13 TDs.