Armstrong defends A-K Valley 7-on-7 title
Zane Dudek had a ready-made explanation for dropping some passes during seven-on-seven competition Thursday afternoon.
He blamed it on the rain.
“I think I dropped two balls against Kiski, two big balls,” said Dudek, Armstrong's star senior running back. “We ended up coming back and winning, so it didn't matter. But it's harder to catch the ball, and it's because I don't like to use my gloves in the rain. They get a little slippier, and I like catching with gloves most of the time.
“You've got to have that little excuse,” he said with a laugh.
The weather ended up not hampering Armstrong much, as the River Hawks defended their title at the second annual Alle-Kiski Valley 7-on-7 tournament and Big Man Challenge at Kiski Area High School. They defeated Summit Academy, 13-3, in the final, with Dudek catching a pair of touchdown passes.
“I love it,” Dudek said. “It's so much fun. It's crazy: I would have never guessed this at the beginning of the day, but we're playing well. We're getting better and better each day, and that's all we can ask.”
The weather also took Dudek by surprise when he woke up Thursday morning. After mostly heat and humidity in recent weeks, Thursday brought cooler temperatures and a steady rain that fell throughout most of the competition.
The conditions caused an impact in seven-on-seven play, which is based entirely around the passing game. Quarterbacks had some difficulty slinging in the rain.
“It just makes it so much harder,” Burrell senior quarterback Max Garda said. “As well as making your reads, you've got to make sure you've got the ball in your hand. Whenever the ball's all wet, it makes everything 10 times harder.”
Teams did all they could to combat the rain. Injured Apollo-Ridge running back Duane Brown, serving as the Vikings' center, carried around a towel to keep the ball as dry as possible before snapping it.
“The ball's much more slick and harder to throw, and it makes it tough on the receivers, too, because the ball just slides right through their hands,” Apollo-Ridge junior quarterback Kyle Fitzroy said.
Could there have been a bright spot amid all the rain clouds?
“I think this will help us with the weather (being) prepared to play Friday night games in rain or any type of weather,” Fitzroy said. “When it's dry, it will help us even more.”
After nine teams competed in the inaugural Alle-Kiski Valley 7-on-7 and Big Man Challenge last summer, a dozen came Thursday. The list included Alle-Kiski Valley teams like Freeport, Kiski Area and Leechburg, to go along with outside-the-area teams like Albert Gallatin, Charleroi and East Allegheny.
Kiski Area coach Dave Heavner said he was pleased with the event, given the weather, and hopes to see it continue to grow. He wants to draw 20 teams to next year's competition.
“I like the whole seven-on-seven thing because I feel offensively, it really helps with everything,” said Garda, whose team didn't attend last summer's event. “We know everybody here, so it's kind of cool to come out here and compete with everyone else in the A-K Valley, as well as some of the other teams that are here.”
The Big Man Challenge featured a six-event rotation in the morning that included a bench and plate hold, tire flip relay, plate relay, sled relay and medicine ball toss; an obstacle course, tire carry relay and farmers walk; and a competition-closing tug of war.
Armstrong won the tug of war, but Kiski Area won the overall war, claiming the Big Man Challenge championship on its home turf. Albert Gallatin finished second.
“We showed up good today and performed well,” Kiski Area senior lineman Cameron Mika said. “Everybody showed up, worked hard and improved on last year's performance, that's for sure.”
The weather didn't bother Mika much.
“I like this weather a lot better,” Mika said. “It's better than 90 degrees, that's for sure. It's feeling like football season now. It's getting time to get ready.”