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Apollo-Ridge rolls past Wilkinsburg, 56-36

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

It was a special day for Apollo-Ridge's special teams.

The kick coverage crew set up three first-half touchdowns as the Vikings (1-1, 1-1) rolled past Wilkinsburg (1-1, 1-1), 56-36, in Eastern Conference play Saturday at Graham Field.

Apollo-Ridge has an 8-0 lead in the all-time series against Wilkinsburg. The 56 points broke the school record of 55, set in 2005 against Leechburg.

With less than four minutes gone in the game, an effective rush hurried Tigers punter Robert Higginbotham, whose shanked kick gave Apollo-Ridge the ball at the Wilkinsburg 25.

Five plays later, freshman Duane Brown scored the first of eight Vikings touchdowns on a 6-yard run.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ben Gembella recovered a fumble on the Tigers' 40.

On the drive's fifth play, Tre' Tipton caught a 12-yard pass from Jesse Zelonka for a touchdown.

Late in the second period, senior Dom Schrecengost got his hand on another Wilkinsburg punt, setting up another short drive at the Tigers' 18.

On the following play, Zelonka found Alex Smith for another touchdown to put Apollo-Ridge in front, 27-0, with 3:24 to go in the half.

“We spend quite a bit of time on special teams,” Vikings coach John Skiba said. “We do it at the start of every practice, and we had a little bit more time this week with the extra day.”

Skiba said Apollo-Ridge didn't have a special teams coach, but the Vikings use a collaborative effort by the coaching staff.

On the first play from scrimmage following the Apollo-Ridge kickoff, Brown picked off a Ryan Cox pass at the Wilkinsburg 49 and scampered into the end zone to make it 34-0.Marcus Williams bobbled the ensuing kickoff but held on. The recovery paid off — Wilkinsburg scored on the first of two 30-yard scoring connections from Cox to Higginbotham.

A 36-yard run by Jonah Casella on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter led to his 1-yard burst three plays later to make it 41-8.

Skiba then inserted the second stringers, and Wilkinsburg scored three touchdowns in its next four possessions to trail, 48-30, with 2:12 left in the game.

“I told our guys we can't have that kind of drop-off when we put our ‘2s' in,” Skiba said. “They can't take their guys out, but I was very happy how we played in the first half. We bounced back and did the things we were supposed to do.”

Sophomore Gareth Dilick concluded Apollo-Ridge's scoring with a 62-yard run.

A 61-yard run by Williams brought the Tigers to within 20 points, but a series of mistakes by the Tigers and just 17 players in uniforms led to a somber coach Mike Fulmore after the game.

“I'm very disappointed; we work really hard to come out and compete,” Fulmore said. “But our numbers really hurt us today. We'll be better next week.”

Casella led the Vikings with 115 rushing yards in seven carries. Zelonka passed for 129 yards.

Apollo-Ridge's home opener Friday against nonconference opponent Western Beaver will begin the 95th football season at Owens Field.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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