Fall sports teams piling up regular-season upsets
Apollo-Ridge's fledgling football team, by all accounts, is a work in progress. Its best days could lie ahead.
That means every game is about acquiring knowledge.
The Vikings are learning in-game situations, like the rules of modern overtime and how to stop the clock without drawing a penalty.
But they're also learning how to shake up the standings.
The Vikings have posted two dramatic upset victories over the past three weeks, offering opponents a pro wrestling-like reintroduction to Class A football.
On Sept. 28, Apollo-Ridge forced Avonworth, the No. 6 team in Class A at the time, into overtime, before edging the Antelopes, 28-21, to rock Owens Field.
Then, on Oct. 12, the defiant Vikings took their talents on the road and left No. 9 Northgate staggering after a 20-19 win, capped by Lonnie Wells' 19-yard field goal with zeros left on the clock.
“We've talked about it on the bus on the way home (from Northgate). Which (upset) was bigger?,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “It's a toss-up. I thought Avonworth was bigger because we hadn't done anything up to that point. To be able to play that well, in that atmosphere, was special.
“Against Northgate, we're down nine in the fourth quarter to a very good team, yet we were very relaxed. I think our kids kind of understood because they had been through it a little bit before.”
Apollo-Ridge isn't alone on the upset trail.
Upsets have speckled the fall season, with unheralded A-K teams giving highly-ranked teams unexpected falls from grace.
Valley knows the feeling. In another football head-turner, the Vikings edged then-No. 7-ranked Freeport, 9-8, in a Week 4 Class AA Allegheny Conference game.
“We didn't want to give up; we kept fighting,” Valley junior running back Demetrius Houser said. “We were ready to play and came out with intensity.”
Knoch joined the party with a recent gem against rival Mars, the No. 4-ranked team in Class AAA. Knoch, ranked No. 10 at the time, blanked the high-flying Planets, 21-0, behind a sinister defensive effort.
“After dropping two games in a row, the seniors came together; Enough losing,” senior running back and linebacker Mike Cunningham said. “Mars must have thought we weren't the same Knoch team.”
Knoch's defense recorded seven sacks in the win.
Riverview boys soccer also pulled a brow-raising victory. It shocked Class A No. 3 Vincentian, 3-2, scoring three quick goals and holding on to beat the Royals for the first time in two years.
Raiders coach Mickey Namey has been coaching for 14 years and called it his biggest win.
“It's funny, and people might say I'm crazy, but I rank that win higher than my first playoff win,” Namey said. “You look at where Vincentian was ranked, and the size of our school. Our kids showed they can compete with that kind of program. They have 40-some kids, we have 16 or 17. We had lost to them, 2-1, the last three years.”
Playoff time is near for most fall sports, and WPIAL seedings will set the stage for more shockers. But the regular season had plenty of motivation for under-the-radar teams.
• Deer Lakes' boys soccer dropped a bombshell on then-No. 2 ranked Mars, 2-1.
The win snapped an 18-game losing streak to the Planets dating to 2003.
• Fox Chapel's girls volleyball team clipped North Allegheny, 3-1, knocking the Tigers from the No. 10 spot in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AAA rankings.
• Riverview's girls soccer team knocked off perennial power Springdale, 1-0, for its first win over the Dynamos since 2005. The Raiders had only two shots on goal.
“That was an epic game,” Riverview coach Andrew Kariotis said. “(Springdale coach) Jerry Concannon was an assistant at Duquesne when I played there, so I got to coach against him.”
• Plum boys soccer beat Central Catholic, 2-1, to break a seven-game skid against the Vikings — a stretch in which they outscored Plum, 22-1.
Skiba said lessons were learned from his team's upsets.
“The first one, the kids really didn't understand any part of it,” the coach said. “They didn't understand overtime. They asked about the coin toss: ‘Should we kick or receive?' They were thinking like NFL overtime.
“Then we scored, and they weren't sure if we won or we had to stop them. It was all new to them.”
Against Northgate, the Vikings converted a key, 3rd-and-20 late in the fourth when Alex Smith caught a pass from first-year quarterback Jesse Zelonka.
But after a few sure-thing plays Skiba had in his back pocket didn't work, Zelonka finally broke through the middle to set up the field-goal try.
“The last couple of weeks, we have gotten so much better (managing the game),” Skiba said. “This is a young team. We're always climbing that mountain.”
And ignoring the rankings on the way up.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.