ShareThis Page

Apollo-Ridge follows Freeport's formula for early-season success

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 5:15 p.m.
Apollo Ridge Jake Fello pulls in a pass for a two point conversion as Seton LaSalle's Nathan Ault attempts to defend in the second quarter at Apollo Ridge.Friday Sept 29, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune - Review
Apollo Ridge Jake Fello pulls in a pass for a two point conversion as Seton LaSalle's Nathan Ault attempts to defend in the second quarter at Apollo Ridge.Friday Sept 29, 2017.
Apollo Ridge Head Coach John Skiba, voices his opinion to and official late in the second quarter against Seton LaSalle, at Apollo Ridge.Friday Sept 29, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune - Review
Apollo Ridge Head Coach John Skiba, voices his opinion to and official late in the second quarter against Seton LaSalle, at Apollo Ridge.Friday Sept 29, 2017.
Apollo-Ridge's Klay Fitzroy is taken down trying to pass during their game against Leechburg on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Leechburg. Apollo-Ridge won 34-7.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Apollo-Ridge's Klay Fitzroy is taken down trying to pass during their game against Leechburg on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Leechburg. Apollo-Ridge won 34-7.
Freeport quarterback Austin Romanchak (7) looks for a receiver against Burrell Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, at Burrell.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Freeport quarterback Austin Romanchak (7) looks for a receiver against Burrell Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, at Burrell.
Upper St. Clair's Jack Burton rumbles up the middle of the North Hills defense for a first down during the WPIAL Class 5A Week 1 game at Upper St. Clair High School on Friday, Sep. 2, 2016. The Panthers win the game, 28-7.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair's Jack Burton rumbles up the middle of the North Hills defense for a first down during the WPIAL Class 5A Week 1 game at Upper St. Clair High School on Friday, Sep. 2, 2016. The Panthers win the game, 28-7.

A team heavily reliant on underclassmen after losing its top playmakers to graduation takes the Allegheny Conference by storm, winning four of its first five games to get back into WPIAL playoff contention.

Sound familiar? It should. The storyline is playing out in the Alle-Kiski Valley for a second consecutive season.

One year after Freeport made an early postseason push with a big batch of sophomores, Apollo-Ridge is doing the same with a crop of freshmen. The Vikings' Jake Fello, Klay Fitzroy, Logan Harmon and Keighton Reese are this year's version of Freeport's Austin Romanchak and Conor Selinger.

There are even the grizzled veterans: Apollo-Ridge seniors Kyle Fitzroy and Joe Sodowsky are filling the roles Noah Freeman and Travis Wisniewski did last season for Freeport.

“I see them like we were last year, but they're probably, I would say, (they have) a little better skill set as a whole group,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “We're pretty much equal there between the two. ... That's a talented team that's just young. They're going to get better.”

Apollo-Ridge is hoping its similarity with Freeport ends with personnel, as the Vikings are seeking a better finish to the season than what the Yellowjackets experienced in 2016. Freeport lost its final four games after a 4-1 start a year ago to miss the playoffs, as it dealt with injuries.

To avoid a similar fate, Apollo-Ridge (4-2, 2-2) needs a bounce-back performance from a 35-21 loss last week against Seton LaSalle. A loss to Allegheny Conference front-runner Freeport (4-1, 3-0) would put a damper on the Vikings' playoff hopes.

“Friday's going to be an absolute awakening for a lot of our guys,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “They haven't been in this position where we're going to be all over the place with different bodies, trying to fill holes and plug holes and see what we can do against a very good football team away at a very good place to play.”

Freeport learned from its disappointment. Now a year older and more experienced, the Yellowjackets are making a push for their second Allegheny title in three seasons.

After a blowout nonconference loss to Aliquippa in Week 3, Freeport bounced back by rallying to beat Shady Side Academy and blanking Burrell to stay a half-game behind Seton LaSalle in the conference race.

“They don't get rattled,” Gaillot said. “They never bat an eye.”

Romanchak, a dual-threat junior quarterback, Selinger, a bruising running back, and speedy senior wideout Jake Sarver lead the Freeport offense, and the defense has two shutouts in three conference games.

“We know our assignments, we have a key the entire game and we just play with our key and shine as a defense,” Freeport sophomore Garret Schaffhauser said. “Defense wins championships. That's our motto, and we just live by that.”

Apollo-Ridge has some offensive uncertainty. Kyle Fitzroy, a three-year starter at quarterback, returned against Seton LaSalle after missing a game to injury and had some struggles, passing for 72 yards while getting sacked 10 times. Harmon, a standout running back and linebacker, left with an injury in the second half and is uncertain for this week.

“It's going to be the chance to make the playoffs, so we've got to come out and get the win,” Reese said.

Apollo-Ridge's 36-7 victory over Freeport last season started the Yellowjackets' season-ending losing streak. But Skiba said the Yellowjackets are bigger, faster and more aggressive than that team.

Freeport's depth also could become a factor. The Yellowjackets roster includes more than 50 players, and that made a difference as the Yellowjackets wore down opponents such as Deer Lakes and Shady Side Academy in the second half.

Skiba expects a difficult battle Friday night. He lives within Freeport's school district and is friends with Yellowjackets defensive coordinator Todd Durand. One of Skiba's assistants teaches at Freeport.

“There's a lot of familiarity with our kids and our players and our coaches,” Skiba said. “It's a tough one. Obviously, they're very good, and I can't see them not being in contention for the top in the conference. We have our hands full. We're going to have to work our tails off.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.