Avonworth, Apollo-Ridge could provide offensive fireworks in Eastern Conference matchup
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For four weeks, Apollo-Ridge and Avonworth have made their points — lots of them. When they meet Friday night, one of them will make a statement.
The key Class A Eastern Conference matchup will feature two of the highest-scoring teams in the WPIAL. No. 8 Avonworth (4-0, 4-0) is averaging 41.8 points per game and No. 4 Apollo-Ridge (3-1, 3-1), 40.5.
Both have kept scoreboard operators busy with big-play offenses, which leads most to believe a shootout is pending — not quite 58-55, Pitt-Duke proportions — but enough to put the extra in extra points.
“I think it will be really close and will probably come down to the last few minutes,” Apollo-Ridge quarterback Jesse Zelonka said. “As much as I want to say we're going to blow them out, we know they're a really good team and they'll come ready to play.”
Apollo-Ridge has broken its school single-game scoring record twice this season, including last week in a 58-13 win over Leechburg.
Avonworth dropped 48 to silence a resurgent West Shamokin team.
“Both of these teams have good offenses and defenses,” Avonworth coach Duke Johncour said. “You could see a 21-14 score, or maybe 21-20. I don't anticipate a 49-42 game. I think there will be points scored on both sides.”
Apollo-Ridge's John Skiba likes to score points as much as the next coach, but he'd prefer to see defense flavor-up the winning recipe.
“I would rather not be in a shootout,” Skiba said. “I think our defense has played extremely well, and we're looking forward to watching them compete against a great team this week. Offensively, I would love to get in rhythm early and put some points on the board to take pressure off our defense.”
But here's a challenge for the Vikings' offense, though, which Zelonka calls “dialed in” — Avonworth's first-team defense has yet to allow a point this season.
The Antelopes allowed special teams scores against Rochester and Leechburg, and Riverview scored on their second-teamers.
“That's not to say people haven't moved the ball on us,” Johncour said. “We'll have to be at our best for Apollo.”
In last year's game, the first-ever meeting between the teams, Apollo-Ridge pulled a 28-21 overtime upset of then-No. 6 Avonworth at Owens Field.
Tre Tipton scored the game-winner on a 10-yard sweep and the Vikings' defense held. Tipton, a receiver, made a rare appearance at tailback and rushed for 113 yards.
Zelonka and Tipton hooked up for two touchdowns in the win.
This year, Avonworth will try to take down the higher-seeded team.
“It could come down to depth and line play,” Johncour said.
Skiba expects Tipton to return after he missed last week's game with an ankle injury.
Tipton dressed but did not play against Leechburg. He has 11 receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the Vikings' defense with three interceptions.
Quarterback Jesse Zelonka has completed 62 percent of his passes for 493 yards with seven scores and no interceptions. He's rushed for a team-leading 258 yards.
Alex Smith has a team-best 12 catches for 254 yards and three scores. Freshman running back Duane Brown has sparked drives lately as well.
“(Zelonka) has good feet and a solid arm,” Johncour said. “He can pull the ball down well and run. The Tipton kid's special. (Alex) Smith is a very good complement to Tipton.”
Avonworth also has numerous playmakers. Like Zelonka, quarterback Matt Donovan can run and throw. He has passed for 646 yards and nine touchdowns.
The rushing tandem of Tyson Kirk and Moses Giles has combined for more than 600 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Speedster Jesse Zubik is a threat as a receiver and returner. He also punts and last week took a snap, anticipated pressure and escaped West Shamokin's rush for an 80-yard score.
“Avonworth is blessed with an array of skill guys who can hurt you in a ton of ways offensively,” Skiba said. “They are very good on defense, only allowing 4.8 points a game this year, and their special teams are extremely aggressive. They are a very sound all-around team.”
And defensive play, Skiba thinks, is the key, not being the last team with the ball.
“We stood toe-to-toe with a great team from North Catholic in Week 1 and have played sound defense every week,” he said. “We took some heat for the Wilkinsburg game, giving up 36 points, but they only scored six on our first-team defense. I think our special teams have been sound as well. We have been able to establish field position and create scoring opportunities.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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