Carmichaels handles Avella, secures playoff berth
Carmichaels' Nate Baker runs the ball in for a touchdown while Avella's Brian Gordon tries to tackle Baker in the first quarter of the game on Friday, October 11.
Avella's quarterback Santino Paris looks for a hole to pass during Friday night's game.
CARMICHAELS – Every year since 1976, the WPIAL football playoffs have come and gone without the Avella Eagles being involved.
The Eagles had a chance to put an end to that streak Friday night, but the Carmichaels Mikes had other plans.
The Mikes ran all over Avella’s defense early and often en route to a 40-21 victory in a WPIAL Class A Tri-County South Conference matchup.
The win clinched a playoff spot for the Mikes, who handed Avella (4-2, 5-2) their second consecutive defeat after a 5-0 start to the season.
The Mikes two-pronged rushing attack of Brennen McMinn and Nate Baker proved to be very effective as they combined to carry the ball 27 times for 152 yards in the first half, including a 13-yard scamper from Baker to put the Mikes up, 14-0, in the first quarter.
“We saw on film that we should have some success running the football against them,” said Carmichaels head coach Ryan Krull. “We would like to be more balanced, but we got a lead and then played it safe the rest of the way. They have some playmakers that could turn a tipped ball into a touchdown, so we didn’t want to risk that too much in the second half and felt comfortable just pounding it.”
Carmichaels (5-1, 6-1) took an early lead on their first drive of the game, when McMinn scored from five-yards out. The Mikes moved the ball with ease, marching 59 yards on seven plays with McMinn carrying the ball four times for 36 yards on the drive.
Avella got back into the game when quarterback Santino Paris hit tight end Joey Yates with a five-yard touchdown pass to cut the Carmichaels’ lead to 14-7 on a drive that was set up by a 50-yard kick return by Zach Thompson.
“We lost two key linemen in last week’s game,” said Avella head coach Ryan Cecchini. “We had some new faces that we had to juggle in and out who didn’t have game experience. We knew they would come right at us and they did. We just fell behind early and couldn’t recover.”
The Mikes answered with a pair of touchdowns, both on one-yard quarterback sneaks by Brandon Lawless to give the Mikes a 26-7 halftime lead, basically putting he game out of reach.
Avella had some opportunities in the first half but couldn’t take advantage of great field position. That mostly had to do with the Mikes’ defense, which smothered the Avella rushing attack for much of the first half. Paris had a rough time throwing the football until late as the Eagles struggled to move the chains all evening.
“Overall, I was happy with the effort,” said Krull. “We were able to take the run away pretty much all night, but we still gave up a couple of big plays in the second half which I’m not happy about. We will have to get that fixed but we did a good job overall.”
The Eagles finally got some big plays from their offense late in the third quarter when Paris hit Thompson with a 45-yard pass and Nick Kusich broke a 35-yard touchdown run to cut the Mikes lead to 26-14.
Carmichaels answered on the ensuing kickoff when Tyler Aeschbacher broke off a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown.
“I tried to get to the middle and saw a wall and just took it,” said Aeschbacher. “The blocking was fantastic. I felt that was the point where we kind of took the wind out of them.”
Paris added a one-yard touchdown run mid-way through the fourth to pull Avella within 13, but the first half deficit proved too much to overcome.
The Mikes leaned on McMinn and their rushing attack down the stretch and put the game away when Lawless hit Aeschbacher with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
McMinn finished with 138 hard-earned yards on 28 carries, and Lawless completed 7 of 12 passes for 129 yards.
“It’s nice to be able to come out and run the ball and it be a big part of a win,” said McMinn. “This was the first time I went over 100 yards since the first week of the season, and I owe it to the line. They stepped up and played great.”
The Eagles will try for that elusive playoff spot next week when they host Beth-Center, while Carmichaels will look to improve their seeding when they travel to Bentworth.
“We still control our own destiny,” said Cecchini. “We just have to get back to work and get back after it. We finish with two at home, so hopefully we come out better and have some better luck in front of our own crowd.”