Ambridge hoping to put end to losing stretch

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Ambridge, once a perennial WPIAL playoff contender, has seen its share of hard times over the past decade. Wins have been hard to come by and playoff berths even more scarce.

Last season, the Bridgers appeared to turn a corner. They were in the playoff hunt until dropping their final two regular-season games.

But there was one point of encouragement for coach Neil Tkatch. This time, losing was not accepted.

“They were very disappointed, and one of the things is we sort of had that in our minds the entire offseason and the summer,” Tkatch said. “I think that really stems from our junior high success. The junior high program has won for two or three years. The JV program has won for a year or two now, so as those kids come through and they're on the varsity, they expect to win as well.

“I think that's a real positive. Sort of the approach I took was a bottom-up approach, and I think ultimately it's going to pay dividends and hopefully establish a program that will have success for a long period of time.”

Tkatch is hoping that success starts in 2013. The Bridgers return five all-conference performers.

The defense will be anchored by linebacker Dan Zajac, whom Tkatch calls a “hidden secret” and “one of the best linebackers in the WPIAL.” Defensive back Khalil Harvey and linemen Brett Balkovec and Sebastian Perez also earned Parkway Conference honors.

Stephon McGinnis will play quarterback, and Tkatch expects him to be a threat running and throwing. McGinnis is charged with improving an offense that scored a conference-low 17 points per game and failed to score 21 points seven times.

Last year, McGinnis rushed for 278 yards and caught 15 passes.

“He's small in stature, but he plays a lot bigger than he's listed on the roster,” Tkatch said. “I expect him — with his speed and his arm — to make plays, and I think the entire team does, as well.”

One part of the Bridgers' game Tkatch hopes carries over to this season is their physical play. Tkatch is a firm believer that teams that are physical — within the confines of the rules — can have success.

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