The Avonworth coaching staff knows a thing or two about the quarterback position. Coach Duke Johncour was quarterback at Grove City College, while his quarterbacks coach and father, Barry, played the position at NCAA Division I-A West Texas State.
So together the two have a rather trained eye when it comes to noticing talent ... even in somebody at a young age.
The Antelopes had to replace 14 starters who graduated coming into the season and were going to rely heavily upon junior quarterback Matt Donovan. Donovan, who Duke Johncour said is an outstanding athlete and fastest player on the team, was slated to replace graduated quarterback Brian Vales, who passed for 1,038 yards last season.
But in the season opener against Rochester, a 21-7 loss, Donovan broke his collarbone and underwent surgery last week. He is finished at least for the regular season.
Enter Zach Chandler.
Chandler, a 14-year-old freshman, was coming off a shoulder injury himself that cost him most of his eighth-grade season. But the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder stepped under center and has calmly guided the Antelopes to a 3-0 record in the Class A Eastern Conference, one-half game behind Northgate, the Post-Gazette's fourth-ranked team.
"He was taking reps all through camp," said Johncour. "[The team] knew he had to get the job done. He has all the tools and abilities to get it done."
Chandler, despite only being a ninth grader, has been getting the job done. He got off to a rough start in his first game as a starter when he threw two interceptions, but the Antelopes were able to beat Riverview, 15-8.
"We had to simplify things [in his first start] because his reps were at about 10 to 15 percent in practice," Johncour said. "We were handcuffed a bit because you only have about a day and a half of offensive work. We weren't able to do as much as we had been when we had [Donovan]. We had to definitely decipher what was going to be effective for us as a team and what was within his capabilities."
Chandler has caught on quickly.
Last week in a 28-7 win against West Shamokin, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 64 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. For the season, he has completed 20 of 31 for 232 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
"He's a big kid, a strong kid and a smart kid," said Johncour, in his second season as head coach at Avonworth. "He has a great arm. He puts the ball where it needs to be. He makes good reads.
"When I get frustrated I have to remind myself he's only a freshman. He's only 14. He doesn't look like a freshman but he is. Mentally and emotionally he's a 14-year-old kid."
The Antelopes travel to Owen Field Friday night to take on Apollo-Ridge (2-1, 2-2) in an Eastern Conference matchup at 7:30 p.m.
Seneca Valley running back Forrest Barnes rushed for more yards in one game last week than some backs have for the entire season.
Barnes, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior, rushed for a school-record 305 yards on 16 carries and scored seven touchdowns -- six in the first half -- in a 64-14 non-conference win against Connellsville. By halftime, he had 278 yards on nine carries and did not play in the fourth quarter.
Barnes, who eclipsed the previous Seneca Valley rushing record of 301 yards set by Bill Davis in 2002, is the third-leading rusher in the WPIAL this season, having rushed for 578 yards on 67 carries, an average of 8.6 yards per carry.
The Raiders will need all Barnes' effort this week when they play host to unbeaten Central Catholic, the Post-Gazette's fourth-ranked Class AAAA team, in a Northern Eight Conference matchup tonight. The game will be televised by Root Sports with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Fox Chapel has had a difficult time under second-year coach Eric Ravotti, going 0-3 in the Northern Eight Conference, 0-4 overall, but the Foxes accomplished something last week that no other team has ... they scored on Central Catholic.
The Foxes lost to the Vikings, 35-3, but Ben Mroz kicked a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter for the only points Central Catholic (4-0, 3-0) has allowed this season.