Monday, November 20, 2023 | 8:27 PM
Avonworth coach Duke Johncour has been part of the program for the last 22 years.
While this season the Antelopes are a perfect 12-0 heading into the WPIAL Class 3A championship game Friday at Acrisure Stadium, there were some years early on in his days wearing red and white when the zero was in the win column and not the loss column.
“I started at Avonworth in 2001 and there were some leans years,” Johncour said. “We had a great year in 2010 when I was an assistant and we were one game away from Heinz Field. I took over in ’11 and we’ve had some really good years in there along with some average years, but for the most part, we’ve been pretty successful.”
The will be the Antelopes’ third district title game appearance in the last five seasons.
Did Johncour see this perfect season coming back in August?
“That’s your goal,” he said. “Every team wants to go undefeated and everybody wants to win the state championship. We had some question marks going into the season. We didn’t know what our quarterback situation was going to look like with a senior and a sophomore. We were replacing a 1,000-yard rusher in Luke Hilyard at running back. We had questions marks about what our identity was going to be, so we’ve answered a lot of those questions throughout the course of the season.
“They are a team. They play together, they work together, they fill in gaps, they fill in holes, and we’re just having a great year.”
The Antelopes won the 3A Western Hills Conference despite a spate of injuries, especially on defense.
“Our defense has played solid all year long,” Johncour said. “I’m a firm believer in protect what you have. So when we’re up by 21 or 28 points, some of the JV kids are getting an opportunity to show what they can do. Some of the scores given up have been against them, and I’m OK with that. It’s not about average scores per game given up. It’s about kids getting experience and developing your program.”
One of the surprises this fall for Avonworth has been the emergence of freshman running back Dimitri Valisaris. He leads the team in rushing weith 895 yards on 127 carries and is second on the team in scoring with 13 touchdowns.
“We try to spread the ball around,” Johncour said. “I’ve said this before; I would hate to defend us. We had four running backs coming into the season. Dimitri has stepped in due to some injuries, and he’s had a phenomenal year. He’s not a big guy, but he is a wrestler and that answers a lot of questions.”
In the 3A semifinals game against once-beaten Elizabeth Forward, the Antelopes trailed 10-7 heading into the fourth quarter before senior wide receiver Andrew Kuban took over.
He put the ‘Lopes up for good with a 3-yard touchdown run then sealed the victory with a 8-yard touchdown pass to Ben Barnes.
“Andrew’s done it all year long,” Johncour said. “He’s filled in several roles, and he just delivers week in and week out. He’s a phenomenal kid. We always say in our locker room, ‘It’s not about you. It’s about us.’ Andrew’s not begging for the ball, but when the ball is put in his hands, he delivers when his time comes.”
“(Belle Vernon has) skill all over field,” Johncour said. “Quinton Martin’s a talented athlete at running back or receiver. Anthony Crews is lightning quick. Their quarterback (Bradan) Laux, he runs the ball and throws the ball and he runs their offense. He gets the ball into the hands of the people who can make plays. So we have our hands full. They’re a great team, well coached and we’re excited about the opportunity to be here.”
Week 12 honorable mention
North Allegheny Tigers
When they met in Week 4 this season, North Allegheny had trouble holding on to the football and Central Catholic running back Elijah Faulkner ran wild with 229 yards and four touchdowns. In the 2023 WPIAL 6A championship game on Saturday, the Tigers held on to the ball and NA quarterback Logan Kushner ran wild. The Tigers won the turnover battle while Kushner threw for 107 yards, ran for 242 yards and accounted for six touchdowns in the title repeat victory, 44-41.
In a Class 4A semifinal battle of 10-1 teams, Montour did not react well when McKeesport cast a Spell on them in advancing to the district finals. Tigers senior running back Keith Spell carried the ball 28 times, gained 190 yards and scored three touchdowns on runs of 13, 14 and 12 yards, while his younger brother, freshman Kemon Spell, carried the ball eight times for 136 yards and scored on a 57-yard run as the brotherly act spelled defeat for the Spartans, 28-14.
Beaver Falls Tigers
In many recent district football postseasons, Beaver Falls was a high seed and one of the favorites to win gridiron gold. This season, though, the Tigers took the scenic route through the Class 2A bracket, but it still will end up taking them to Acrisure Stadium on the North Shore. The No. 10-seeded Tigers once again relied on the running of senior Da’talian Beauford, who rushed for 128 yards on 23 carries and scored on touchdown runs of 2 and 14 yards in a wild win over Washington, 28-26.
2023 Trib HSSN teams of the week
Week 11 – Beaver Falls Tigers
Week 10 – Deer Lakes Lancers
Week 9 – South Side Rams
Week 8 – Central Valley Warriors
Week 7 – Mars Fightin’ Planets
Week 6 – Pine-Richland Rams
Week 5 – Moon Tigers
Week 4 – Thomas Jefferson Jaguars
Week 3 – Knoch Knights
Week 2 – Waynesburg Central Raiders
Week 1 – Aliquippa Quips
Week Zero – Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils