WPIAL 3A Championship Preview: Belle Vernon vs. Avonworth

The Leopards look to repeat in rematch with Avonworth at Acrisure Stadium

Fri Nov 24, 2023 - 1:03PM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers

Last Updated: Sat Nov 25, 2023 - 1:17AM

WPIAL 3A Championship: No. 2 Avonworth (12-0) vs No. 1 Belle Vernon (10-1)

Pregame at 4:30 p.m. on WSN Audio - LISTEN LIVE

Location: Acrisure Stadium

WSN Broadcasters: Sean Meyers & John Flickinger

For the second year in a row, Belle Vernon Area and Avonworth will battle in the WPIAL Class 3A Football Championship. The top-seeded Leopards hope that history will repeat itself in terms of the outcome, as well, as BVA aims to repeat as district champions.

In 2022, the Leopards claimed a 24-7 win against the Antelopes, capturing the program’s second WPIAL title. A couple of weeks later, Belle Vernon won the first state title in team history.

With the vast majority of key contributors back this year, the Leopards were expected to reach the title game for the third year in a row. Thus far, the Leps have met the lofty expectations, claiming impressive nonconference wins against McKeesport Area and Penn-Trafford, and overwhelming the opponents in the Class 3A Interstate Conference. After garnering the top seed and a first-round bye in the postseason, BVA prevailed easily against No. 8 Deer Lakes 49-6 in the quarterfinals, and rolled past fourth-seeded East Allegheny 49-8 last Friday at Norwin High School.

In the victory against the Wildcats, Penn State commit Quinton Martin posted a dozen carries for 149 yards and a touchdown, and he added two receptions for 30 yards, including another TD. Additionally, Jake Gedekoh compiled seven carries for 119 yards and a score, while Kole Doppelheuer added 87 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.

On the season, Martin paces BVA in several offensive categories, including 89 carries for 913 yards, 39 receptions for 620 yards, and 25 total touchdowns. Doppelheuer, meanwhile, has amassed 693 yards rushing and 13 total scores, while Gedekoh has added 432 yards rushing. Quarterback Braden Laux, an Eastern Michigan commit, has completed 87-of-135 passes for 1,335 yards, with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while Anthony Crews has 23 receptions for 324 yards, 21 carries for 329 yards, and nine total TDs. Defensively, linebacker Tanner Moody leads BVA with 68 tackles, while safety Adam LaCarte has notched 46 stops. Martin, Gedekoh, Moody, and Chase Mertz have each grabbed a pair of interceptions.

Despite graduating a couple of Division I players, the Antelopes have continued to play at an extremely high level in 2023. After a nonconference slate that was highlighted by a win against Central Valley, the Lopes went unblemished through the Class 3A Western Hills Conference, including wins against West Mifflin Area and Beaver Area in consecutive weeks. As the No. 2 seed in the bracket, the Antelopes received a first-round bye, and then followed with a home win against Beaver Area 41-21 in the second matchup of the season. Last week, the Lopes overcame a second-half deficit to oust No. 3 Elizabeth Forward 21-10 at Gateway High School.

Andrew Kuban was the offensive catalyst for Avonworth against EF, as he compiled 17 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown, caught three passes for 29 yards, and threw an 8-yard TD. Freshman Dimitri Velisaris added 15 carries for 48 yards, while Bucknell commit Brandon Biagiarelli scored a rushing touchdown and Ben Barnes hauled in a receiving TD.

For the campaign, Kuban has 54 receptions for 862 yards and 11 scores, and he’s rushed 61 times for 588 yards and seven TDs. Velisaris has produced 127 carries for 895 yards and 11 TDs, while QB Carson Bellinger has hit on 98-of-161 throws for 1,487 yards, with 21 TDs and five interceptions. Defensively, Biagiarelli has registered 72 tackles, while Mason Metz has 57 stops and seven sacks.

Belle Vernon Area head coach Matt Humbert, in his 10th season and fourth trip to the WPIAL title game with the Leopards, praised the play of the Antelopes.

“They’re consistent with what they were last year, and it’s just a well-balanced team with not many deficiencies,” he said. “Their defensive line is probably just as good as any defensive line that we’ve seen this year.

“I truly think the biggest key is who is going to blink first,” he said of the matchup. “It’s all of the little things and who can capitalize on those the best, and we have to be dynamic offensively. We have to be able to spread the ball around like we typically do, and we have to be able to attack all parts of the field. And we gotta be able to prevent them from grinding yardage in their wildcat.”

Avonworth is led by Duke Johncour, in his 13th season, who is in pursuit of his second WPIAL crown after leading the Lopes to gold in 2019.

His message for success against the Leopards was simply stated.

“Just minimize the big plays and contain their speed,” he said.

The winning team advances to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals, and will face either District 6 champion Central (Martinsburg), or District 10 champion Hickory.