North Catholic outlasts Apollo-Ridge in 2OT
When PIAA officials mandated that teams spend pre-training camp days acclimating to the late-summer heat, they likely didn't imagine it would prepare Apollo-Ridge and North Catholic for Friday's balmy, season-opening endurance trial.
In addition to the regulation 48 minutes, the Vikings and Trojans clashed for two rounds of overtime before the latter prevailed 22-21 at North Park's J.C. Stone Field. North Catholic (1-0, 1-0), ranked No. 3 by Trib Total Media, battled cramps and fatigue for much of the night as it ground out yards against No. 5 Apollo-Ridge (0-1, 0-1) in the Eastern Conference contest.
Junior running back Jerome Turner scored the game-deciding touchdown from 1 yard out, then punched in the two-point conversion using the same off-left-tackle running lane.
“(The heat) felt normal to me,” said Turner, who finished with 14 carries for a game-high 93 yards. “We just played (overtime) like normal. We ran the same play three times.
“It was going to be a tough game, but I didn't know it'd be that close.”
Turner, who carried as a tailback and wildcat-style quarterback, allowed the Trojans' offense to thrive without junior standout P.J. Fulmore, who gained 20 yards on seven attempts in the first half and missed the second with what coach Bob Ravenstahl said was a nagging lower-body injury.
“We've got two or three good backs out there that we think could play on any team,” Ravenstahl said. “P.J. is just the leader.”
Few people understood North Catholic's depth better than Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba, who harped on his team's abundance of offensive miscues. Most notably, after the Vikings stopped North Catholic from scoring in the first overtime, they fumbled away the ball during their possession.
“I can go on and on about our offensive mistakes,” Skiba said. “But our defense played their butts off. I don't think they (the Trojans) were ready for us to play defense like that.”
Fresh and fired up, Apollo-Ridge marched downfield during its first possession. Back-to-back 12-yard dives up the middle put the Vikings in scoring range, and senior Jesse Zelonka connected on a 23-yard touchdown pass to junior Alex Smith to put Apollo-Ridge ahead 6-0.
The heat and humidity failed to harm North Catholic during its first score of the night, a 93-yard touchdown drive that included 16 plays. Turner's 37-yard run off the left tackle gave the Trojans their biggest pickup of the drive.
Turner almost earned the points, too, but after taking a screen pass 12 yards, he fumbled at the goal line. A scramble with a half-dozen players in the end zone ensued. Senior offensive lineman Josh Churchin came up with the football.
Both sides showed signs of opening-night nerves. The Vikings went offsides twice and had three false starts in the first half. The Trojans countered with three holding penalties and two illegal procedures.
Apollo-Ridge's offense, dormant for much of the first half after its scoring drive, came to life in the third quarter. Quarterback Jesse Zelonka completed 8 of 10 passes in the second half for 88 yards and finished 10 of 14 for 108 yards and two scores. Junior receive Alex Smith, Zelonka's top target, had four receptions for 73 yards.
“It's something to build on,” Skiba said. “I told them, ‘We had mistake after mistake after mistake, and we went to double overtime against a team like that. … That team is star-studded.”