N. Catholic, Avonworth to meet in semifinal

November 19, 2021 Cranberry Local Sports

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North Catholic's Liam Straub jumps over a Keystone Oaks player during last week's 48-41 WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal playoff win for the Trojans. They face Avonworth in a semifinal Friday at Fox Chapel High School.

It was just one of those nights for the North Catholic defense. Fortunately for the Trojans, such outings have shown to be the exception and not the norm.

Having conceded only 51 points the entire regular season, North let Keystone Oaks score 41 points in the teams' WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal matchup last Friday. It was the first time the Trojans (11-0) had allowed such a total in four years.

The team will look to get back in its typical rhythm in a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal clash with Avonworth (9-2) Friday night at Fox Chapel High School.

“To be honest, it was a surprise we gave up that many points (last week),” North coach Patrick O'Shea said. “I thought Keystone Oaks played a really, really great game, to their credit. There were just times where we just struggled a little bit.”

O'Shea doesn't consider the points yielded to Keystone Oaks as much as he does the defense buckling down when it needed to most. The group held the Golden Eagles to a field goal after they pulled within three and recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter.

“There were times where we were just inches away,” O'Shea added. “Inches away from knocking the ball out. Inches away from making a great tackle. It was just one of those evenings where it just seemed like there were so many times where we were just a half a second away from getting a sack or whatever it might be.”

Against the Antelopes, the Trojans will bump into tailback Ian Syam, who's rushed for 1,028 yards and scored 21 total touchdowns this year. In only one half against Mt. Pleasant last week, he crossed the goal-line more times (6) than he was tackled (3).

The Trojans are one of four WPIAL Class 3A teams that have kept opponents under an average of ten points per contest. The Antelopes (9.5) are another. Fellow semifinalists Central Valley (6.9) and Elizabeth Forward (7.4) round out the group.

“That's where we're at,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “The four best teams and the four best defenses are the ones that are going down the stretch. We're fortunate to be there.”

Senior Carson Laconi figured to play a significant role for North before breaking his collarbone in a preseason scrimmage with Avonworth. He made his return in the secondary last week and should continue to help bolster the unit.

“That young man has put in so much work over the past three months to get back,” O'Shea said. “Those kinds of victories don't show up on the scoreboard and people don't talk about them. For him to be injured in a scrimmage game in the opening week of his senior season and then to rehab, it was super-exciting to see him take the field last Friday.”

Even as the team's defense was locked in a battle, the two other facets of the Trojans' game excelled. On special teams, Kyle Tipinski returned a kick 85 yards for a touchdown and Jack Fennell brought another back 75 yards for a score of his own.

The offense piled up 434 yards from scrimmage and was unruffled during its chance to take the lead late.

“We had 80 yards in front of us,” O'Shea said. “I was really impressed with just how calm our offense was. They just ran out on the field and looked over for the signals. They put together a really, really nice game-winning drive.

“When you get this far in any season, there's just different parts of your team that you have to depend on on any given night.”

Since winning the WPIAL Class 1A title in 2013, North has reached the semifinal round and bowed out five different times, including last year's 17-0 loss to Elizabeth Forward. The Trojans hope to get over the hurdle this time around.

“There's no doubt that's what you want,” O'Shea said. “That's why we put all the time into it. … To be able to have practice next week and prepare to play that game at Heinz Field, more than anything, would be a super-exciting opportunity for the kids and their families and the coaching staff.”

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Brendan Howe

Brendan Howe