Avella remains perfect with win
AVELLA – The first-place Avella football team is 4-0.
Say it again. After all, it has been a little while. Might still sound a bit strange.
The first-place Avella football team is 4-0.
Avella allowed Jefferson-Morgan to score touchdowns on its first two offensive plays Friday night, but this time the Eagles didn’t crumble.
The feel-good story of the fall around the WPIAL scored 26 consecutive points and withstood a frantic fourth quarter to pull out a 26-21 win in front of a home crowd that hasn’t witnessed a stretch like this in more than three decades.
“Last year we didn’t win a game,” said wide receiver Zach Thompson. “The year before we won one game. Now we’re 4-0 to start off, tied for first in the conference. It’s crazy. It makes you want to cry.”
Technically, because one of Avella’s wins came against Vincentian, the Eagles would lose out on the top spot via tiebreaker if the playoffs began today. But Beth-Center plays the same nine teams as Avella, including Vincentian.
Thompson caught three passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He also intercepted Jefferson-Morgan quarterback Tyler Bowman at his own 2-yard line with about a minute to go to seal the win.
“It’s unreal,” Thompson added. “It’s like I’m dreaming. You don’t look in the newspaper and expect to see ‘Avella Eagles 4-0.’ It doesn’t happen. It’s unreal. You can’t find the words to describe it. We just hope that we keep winning, maybe make the playoffs … we just want to win.”
Besides Thompson, Jake Temple ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Nick Kusich added 44 yards on 16 carries. And quarterback Santino Paris completed 6 of 12 passes for 152 yards while also running for a 35-yard score for Avella’s first touchdown.
Jefferson-Morgan got 179 yards and a touchdown from Dustin Conti, but the Rockets committed four turnovers and were penalized nine times for 80 yards.
“We kept turning the ball over,” Jefferson-Morgan coach Liam Ryan said. “That was the main thing. We would be rolling, then turn the ball over or make a mistake and it would set us back.”
After trailing, 14-13, at halftime, Avella scored twice in the third quarter: a 22-yard pass from Paris to Thompson and Temple’s 57-yard run.
Jefferson-Morgan (3-1, 3-1) made it a one-score game with a 41-yard pass from Bowman to Nic Santoyo, who had one of his team’s two early touchdowns. But after the teams traded fumbles and Avella punted, Jefferson-Morgan drove to the Eagles 25-yard line before Thompson picked off Bowman.
“This is amazing,” Avella coach Ryan Cecchini said. “We knew this was going to be toughest test, and we really could have packed it in early when we were down, 14-0. But we didn’t. We bounced back. We could have packed it in when we fumbled and everything was going wrong in the fourth quarter, but we didn’t.”
After the game, players stepped through confetti left over on the field from halftime and sang with the band, arm-in-arm, a typical sight at most high schools, yet not lately at Avella.
While his teammates were celebrating, Temple shared a tearful embrace with one of Avella’s assistant coaches, his team still undefeated.
“I’ve never felt this way before,” Temple said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world winning, especially in a close game like this.
“With the team we have now, anything can happen. We’re hoping we can go on and be 5-0.”
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