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Avonworth’s signature ‘drive’ propels it to title date with Clairton |

Avonworth’s signature ‘drive’ propels it to title date with Clairton

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Avonworth's Jamal Hughley breaks off a first-quarter run against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014 at JC Stone Field.

For years, Denver Broncos fans have fondly remembered “The Drive.”

That’s the 98-yard, 15-play march engineered by quarterback John Elway that tied a 1987 NFL playoff game at Cleveland, which Denver eventually won.

Avonworth players and fans now have their own version of “The Drive” to savor for years to come.

With the score tied at 21-21 in Friday’s WPIAL Class A playoff game against defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, a Trojans punt was downed at the Avonworth 7.

That set the stage for a 16-play, 93-yard drive that gave the Antelopes a 28-21 victory and a berth in the WPIAL championship for the first time in 55 years.

Avonworth (11-1) will play Clairton (12-0) at 11 a.m. Friday at Heinz Field.

Quarterback Josh Drwal engineered the drive, which started badly with a 4-yard loss. “We just took the drive one play at a time,” Drwal said. “We have faith in our coaches and each other. We got some breaks, too.”

A pair of pass interference calls against North Catholic helped the Antelopes’ cause.

The first one took Avonworth out of the hole to its 19. The second brought the ball to the Avonworth 48.

“The penalties were legit calls,” said Antelopes coach Duke Johncour. “They made great plays during the drive. You want to put your kids in a positive position to succeed and execute.”

But the drive’s definitive play was on third-and-13 at the Trojans 38.

Fullback Brandon Wasko, who lined up at tailback because Jamal Hughley was banged up, shuffled to his right, took a pitch from Drwal and fired a pass across his body to a wide-open Drwal for a first down at the 23.

Wasko scored four plays later.

“Right before the play, Brandon told coach he could throw the ball,” Drwal said. “I had faith in him, and coach had faith in him.”

It’s been an unusual season for Drwal.

Pegged to be the team’s top slot receiver this year, Drwal was set back with tonsillitis in preseason camp.

“Early on, I got sick,” Drwal said. “I decided to get my tonsils out since it was early. I came back in the third game.”

In that pivotal game at Brentwood, quarterback Zach Chandler went down with a broken leg and Drwal, whose experience under center had been limited to a brief stint in eighth grade, was called upon to help save the season.

“Chandler was going back-and-forth with Ben DiNucci (Pine-Richland) and Brett Brumbaugh (South Fayette) for the WPIAL passing lead,” Johncour said. “When Zach went down, our roles changed considerably.”

“Adversity struck and I stepped to the plate and did what I could,” Drwal said. “The team rallied around me whenever I struggled.”

Avonworth’s previous WPIAL title game appearance was a 13-13 tie with Union Area in 1959 under coach Bob McCormick.

The WPIAL declared co-champs and each school received a trophy. The WPIAL wouldn’t approve breaking championship games ties until 1987.

George Guido is a freelance writer. Staff writer Kevin Gorman contributed.

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