North Xtra: Avonworth preparing for a big test

Craig Meyer's high school football notebook

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When Avonworth routed Rochester in the first week of the season, 33-6, the reaction ranged from mild surprise to utter bewilderment. Not only how did one of the traditional Class A powerhouses lose its first game of the season, but how did it lose it so badly?

After another month of games, the answer to those questions has been a pretty simple one -- it turns out the Rams' opponent in that game, Avonworth, just happens to be really good.

Through the first five weeks of the season, the Antelopes are undefeated, their first 5-0 start in five years, and find themselves at No. 4 in the Post-Gazette's Class A rankings, one spot ahead of five-time defending WPIAL champion Clairton.

The program's success this season has represented a significant step forward from a team that finished 5-5 in 2012, losing four of its final six games, including a 20-point setback to Rochester in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

Offense has been at the center of Avonworth's surge, as it has scored no fewer than 33 points in each of its first five games this season and is averaging 40.4 points per game. Among the leaders on the offensive end has been running back Moses Giles, who has rushed for 489 yards this season despite a yards-per-carry average that's lower than many of the top rushers in the WPIAL. He is, however, coming off his strongest game of the season, rushing for 147 yards and scoring three touchdowns last Friday.

Quarterback Matt Donovan has also been effective in helping put up points, as he has 707 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Antelopes have been just as impressive, allowing an average of 9.4 points per game, about half the number they gave up last season (17.9).

The question now becomes whether the team has staying power, one that will be answered relatively quickly with a game against Class A No. 2 North Catholic Friday, a team that narrowly defeated Avonworth last season, 19-15.

Beyond that game, though, it's hard to envision where a loss may come for Avonworth, as none of its final three opponents currently have a winning record.

Trojans quarterback shines

Playing against one of the WPIAL's early season surprises in West Shamokin, North Catholic junior quarterback Adam Sharlow turned in perhaps his best performance of the season.

In a 60-27 victory against the Wolves, Sharlow had 363 total yards (241 passing, 122 rushing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).

On the season, he has passed for 631 yards and rushed for an additional 463 yards.

A trend for the Indians

One of the most historically decorated programs in Class AAAA and all of the WPIAL, North Hills has struggled over the greater part of the past decade to emerge from the early part of its schedule unscathed.

With a 21-17 loss last Friday to Penn Hills, the Indians are now 3-2, meaning they have lost at least two of their first five games in five of the past eight seasons.

Spartans off to good start

Now over halfway through the regular season, Laurel looks primed for what could be its best season in at least the past few years. The Spartans are 4-1, giving them their best five-game start since 2009, a season in which they advanced to the WPIAL Class A semifinals. That 2009 team was the last one to make the WPIAL playoffs.

With a victory Friday against Western Beaver, they would match their win total from last season.

Games of interest

Central Catholic at Pine Richland, 7:30 p.m., Friday -- Led by quarterback Ben DiNucci and his 1,054 passing yards, Pine-Richland is off to a solid 3-2 start in their first season under coach Eric Kasperowicz. Now it must play another tough opponent when it entertains the Vikings, who are undefeated at 5-0 overall, 4-0 in the Northern Eight Conference and No. 2 in the Post-Gazette's Class AAAA rankings.

Knoch at Franklin Regional, 7 p.m., Friday -- This will be the second game in a difficult three-game stretch for Knoch, which lost last week to Hampton and which faces Mars Area a week later. The Panthers' retooled offense has averaged 32 points per game in its four victories this season. Franklin Regional defeated Knoch last season, 23-13.


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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