Apollo-Ridge looks to match No. 1 Sto-Rox's firepower
TribLIVE Sports Videos
There is no wheel of fortune on the Apollo-Ridge sideline or in the coaches' box that determines who gets the football on the next play.
The Vikings (8-2) have plenty of offensive options — a good problem to have, especially two rounds into the WPIAL playoffs — but there are times when coach John Skiba is faced with a blinking switchboard of choices.
That'll likely be the case Friday night, particularly if it's a close game, when Apollo-Ridge (8-2) faces No. 1 seed Sto-Rox (10-0) in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals at Deer Lakes.
Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley has an idea of where Apollo-Ridge is located — “It's out there, way out there,” he said. But he's more certain about what type of players his opponents have.
“They have a lot of talent at the skill positions,” he said.
With no free spins or do-overs in the playoffs, where one play can make or break a season, Skiba might have to make a split-second decision that doesn't come from an ear-marked page in the playbook.
Do they throw on first down? Do they run on third? Who gets the ball on a key fourth-down play?
When and how much do they use the three-pronged stable of running backs Jonah Casella, Ben Gemballa and Lonny Wells?
Do Tre Tipton or Duane Brown get into the mix as wildcat quarterbacks or break to the edges on reverses?
Skiba isn't getting worked up. He rarely does. He said he has learned to rely on a softly blended combination of instinct and situational thinking when it comes to choosing his weapons.
“You try to get people touches,” Skiba said. “Sometimes it's based on mismatches. We have a bunch of guys we can use.”
Quarterback Jesse Zelonka is a hazard to run or throw, and his targets are plentiful. Tipton has 37 catches for 610 yards and 12 touchdowns, Alex Smith has 26 receptions for 549 yards and seven scores, and Duane Brown, a rising freshman, has 14 grabs for 211 yards and a pair of TDs.
Apollo-Ridge has used 10 different ball carriers and seven different receivers. Some have been backups who appeared in mercy-ruled games, but nonetheless, the wealth's been spread.
“You look at a Duane Brown; he is a threat anytime he has the ball,” Skiba said. “You get him in space, he's ridiculous. And Tre, you want to make sure he gets touches. People want to take him away so much. A lot of times he is a decoy. He knows that and understands that.”
Although he is vocal at times, Zelonka is not a check-off quarterback who free-wheels. He takes the play and starts it.
“No matter where the ball is going, I know it's going to a weapon,” Zelonka said. “I'm sure there are times I wish I could give it to other guys, but Coach Skiba is a great football mind and we trust him.”
There is less decision making on the defensive side of the ball. The message there is clear.
“We have to be nasty,” defensive coordinator Bruce Yard told the team this week.
Apollo-Ridge's fate could lie in its defense play. A somewhat unheralded unit has 35 tackles for losses. It played strong in a 22-21 season-opening loss to North Catholic in double-overtime. North Catholic is the No. 2 seed.
Its secondary, though, allowed plenty of short catch-and-runs in a 35-27 loss to Avonworth. That is something Sto-Rox does well behind standout quarterback Lenny Williams.
Apollo-Ridge was strong on both sides of the ball in a 42-28 win over previously unbeaten Beth-Center in the first round.
“We weren't very sharp early on,” Skiba said. “But once we got our feet underneath us, we were fine.”
Zelonka hopes his team sets the tone early, but he enters the game thinking realistically.
“If we come out and play like we did against Beth-Center (last week), I think we can hang with them,” Zelonka said. “But if we come out sluggish and lethargic, we'll get our butts handed to us.”
Show commenting policy
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.
- High school notebook: Thomas Jefferson, Clairton head into enemy territory
- Thomas Jefferson uses defense, running game to capture WPIAL title
- Aliquippa wins 16th WPIAL title, ends South Fayette’s 44-game winning streak
- Central Catholic wins 5th WPIAL football title
- Clairton captures 12th WPIAL football championship
- WPIAL Class AAAA final preview: Penn-Trafford looking to reverse trend of playoff losses to Central Catholic
- Clairton among greatest WPIAL dynasties; Aliquippa, South Fayette close
- WPIAL Class AAA final preview: Big-play passing attack paying off for defending WPIAL champion Central Valley
- High school notebook: New classes put football finalists on the move next season
- WPIAL Class AAAA notes: P-T unable to snap playoff skid vs. Central Catholic
- WPIAL Class A notes: Return sparks Clairton for 2nd straight week