Maybe no one was waiting for this night more than Avonworth junior Mason Metz.
A 6-foot, 205-pound offensive and defensive lineman, Metz had his season end a year ago just short of the Antelopes’ trip to Acrisure Stadium for the WPIAL Class 3A championship game.
“Last year, I got taken out in the first half [of the WPIAL semifinals] with a concussion,” Metz said. “I didn’t get to play last year.”
Senior Andrew Kuban joined Metz and the rest of the No. 2 Avonworth defense in Friday night’s WPIAL Class 3A semifinal game against No. 3 Elizabeth Forward at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium to make sure that wouldn’t be the case again.
Kuban carried the ball 18 times for 140 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing for another fourth-quarter score, as the Antelopes defense forced two second-half turnovers and held the Warriors to just 131 yards of total offense to earn a 21-10 victory and advance to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game for the second consecutive season.
“We have unfinished business,” Kuban said. “We expected to be there. It feels great. We’re really excited.”
For the second season in a row, Avonworth (12-0) will face top-seeded Belle Vernon (10-1) in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at 5 p.m. Friday at Acrisure Stadium.
By defeating Elizabeth Forward (10-2), the Antelopes will play for a WPIAL title for the fourth time in the past decade.
Avonworth lost in the Class 1A title game in 2014 to Clairton before winning its first district championship in 60 years with a victory against Washington in 2019.
The Antelopes fell to the Leopards, 24-7, in the Class 3A title game at Acrisure Stadium last season.
“It’s going to be a great feeling, obviously,” said Metz, who had four sacks and forced two fumbles against EF. “We’re going to enjoy the moment, but we are obviously there to win. So training hard all week and then going out there and dominating like we did here and I think we’ll be all right.
“To go against Belle Vernon is obviously going to be a lot more of a motivating factor,” he added. “They beat us last year. We want to get the get back and keep going until December.”
And Avonworth will be looking to ride Kuban as far as he can take them — like he did against the Warriors.
The Antelopes rushed for 213 yards as a team, but it was Kuban’s timely second-half heroics that were the difference Friday night.
Kuban committed the game’s first turnover in the third quarter when he fumbled the football inside Antelope territory.
The Warriors, who trailed 7-3 at half, immediately made the Antelopes pay by driving 46 yards and scoring their only touchdown when sophomore quarterback Ryan Messina connected with senior receiver Isaiah Turner for a 3-yard scoring strike.
“I just knew we had to get it back,” said Kuban of his role in the Warriors taking a 10-7 lead. “I know I make mistakes, but we knew we had to come back, capitalize and just keep playing our game.”
That’s exactly what Kuban did.
With 10:23 left in the fourth quarter, Kuban capped an Avonworth drive with a 3-yard touchdown run that gave his team a 14-10 lead it would not relinquish.
When Avonworth linebacker Benjamin Barnes intercepted a Messina pass, Kuban again drove his team down field only this time connecting with Barnes for an 8-yard touchdown on a jump pass out of the wildcat.
With the Antelopes struggling to move the football in the first half, Avonworth coach Duke Johncour decided to switch to the wildcat.
The move paid off.
“The ball in five’s hands is never a bad decision,” said Johncour of Kuban. “He did really well. He did a great job for us. He played awesome.”
The Antelopes managed to outgain the Warriors, 37-24, during a first quarter in which any positive offensive momentum was at a premium.
Then Avonworth switched to the wildcat and opened the scoring on its first drive of the second quarter.
Kuban broke off consecutive runs of 42 and 40 yards before Brandon Biagiarelli plunged into the end zone on a 3-yard run, which gave the Antelopes a 7-0 lead with 10:06 left before halftime.
“We knew we had to make some plays and we just gave them too many opportunities to hang around,” Johncour said. “They’re a really good football team.”
After struggling with drives starting in its own end of the field for much of the first half, EF would strike back just before halftime courtesy of some good field position.
With 3:37 left in the second quarter, the Warriors inherited the football at the Avonworth 48-yard line and drove 14 yards to set up a 34-yard field goal by senior kicker William Sinay.
EF’s deficit was sliced to 7-3 with 30 seconds left before half.
Both team’s defenses controlled the game through the first two quarters.
Avonworth gained 134 yards of total offense. The Lopes rushed for 125 yards in the first half, with 85 coming on their scoring drive.
EF, meanwhile, was held to just 84 yards of total offense — 44 through the air and 40 on the ground.
Messina completed 10-of-19 passes, but for just 79 yards, a touchdown and interception. Junior Charles Nigut led the Warriors offense, carrying the ball 18 times for 50 yards.
“Staying gap sound was a big thing,” Metz said. “Playing our gaps that we were taught and our technique was a big thing and letting the backers come and make the plays. Another thing is we have a lot of speed on our d-line, which a lot of others don’t, and that was a big advantage.”
With a complete victory in tow, Kuban said he is excited for the proposition of meeting Belle Vernon again on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.
“We’ve had them circled,” he said. “We knew we had to get our get back this year. We’re excited for that. We just can’t wait to play them.”
Other Class 3A semifinal
Defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champion Belle Vernon rushed for 450 yards and six touchdowns Friday night to knock off No. 4 East Allegheny, 49-8, in the classification’s other semifinal game at Norwin.
Leopards standout Quinton Martin, a Penn State recruit, carried the football 12 times for 152 yards and one touchdown, while Jake Gedekoh rushed for 129 yards and a score, and Kole Doppelheuer added 70 yards and two touchdowns.