Apollo-Ridge chasing program's 3rd postseason victory against Sto-Rox
One team of Vikings is used to to deep playoff runs, while the other is looking for its first.
Ninth-seeded Apollo-Ridge and No. 1 Sto-Rox meet in what promises to be a high-scoring matchup in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Deer Lakes High School.
For Apollo-Ridge (8-2), a win would be just the third postseason victory in school history, while Sto-Rox (10-0) has won three playoff games in each of the last two seasons before losing to Clairton at Heinz Field in the WPIAL final.
A quick look at both teams shows they have more in common than the Vikings' nickname. Both teams have high-powered offenses, which has given Sto-Rox a Class A-best 459 points this season, while Apollo-Ridge isn't far behind with 402 points on the year.
“The first thing I noticed about (Apollo-Ridge) is that it's surprising how similiar we are,” Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said. “Offensively and defensively, we run a lot of the same stuff. That makes it a little easier to prepare for, but we've still got to focus on the Xs and Os.”
“There's no doubt how we both (play) the same way makes it interesting,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “We do some of the same things formation-wise, but we're both big-strike teams. We both try to go for home runs; we're not trying to hit singles.”
At the helm for Sto-Rox is senior quarterback Lenny Williams, who earlier this season became the WPIAL's all-time leader in career passing yardage. Williams has thrown for 7,850 yards in his career, including 2,049 just this season.
Apollo-Ridge has its own veteran quarterback in senior Jesse Zelonka. As a two-year starter, he doesn't have the career passing numbers that Williams does, but he has thrown for 1,466 yards this season and has run for another 742 — 364 more than Williams.
“Lenny Williams is a heck of a player, that's for sure, but I enjoy the guy I have with me,” Skiba said. “I think we compare well that way.”
Neither coach is shy to admit the game will likely come down to which team's athletes can make the most plays in the open field.
Sto-Rox's top receiving target is Mallory Claybourne, who is 88 yards from 1,000 this year, and Craig Johnson is a capable second option with running back Brendan Blair also involved in the passing game.
Apollo-Ridge counters with Tre Tipton, who has 37 catches and 610 yards despite missing some time with an injury. Alex Smith and Duane Brown both have shown playmaking ability whether Tipton was on the field or not.
“You're going to have to score, that's for sure. They're going to be explosive, and we're going to take our best shot and let our athletes play,” Skiba said.
With both teams capable of scoring points, Bradley said the other phases of the game may decide the winner.
“I think whatever team gets a big play on defense, whether its a sack or a turnover, that could turn it in their favor,” Bradley said. “Both teams can score on special teams, too, so you have to be prepared.”
With both teams carrying in some amount of playoff experience, as well, there should be few jitters, and both coaches say their teams are as ready as they're going to be for the quarterfinal.
“We're night and day compared to last year. These kids had no idea what the playoffs were like last year, and we were in a little over our heads,” Skiba said. “This year, Beth-Center came out really well (in the first round), but we weathered that. I think our kids are ready.”
“We started the season at No. 2 and moved up when Clairton lost,” Bradley said. “I don't think we have any pressure, but we don't want to overlook anybody. Hopefully, we can get a stop or two, and that will be the difference in the game.”