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A-K Valley football notebook: Apollo-Ridge to face different test in Freeport

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, 10:15 p.m.

It didn't take long for Apollo-Ridge to get branded with the fun-to-watch label this season. The Vikings (5-1) average 41.5 points per game, second most in the A-K Valley to Kittanning (42.7) and have made rousing plays a routine occurrence.

The team's explosive offense has also helped along a defense that continually has been tested. Those tests, however, have been by teams that primarily run the football.

This week, the Vikings will take on a Freeport team (3-3, 3-3) that passes — a lot. An athletic secondary that includes Tre Tipton, Duane Brown and Jonah Casella hasn't seen this much action since 7-on-7s.

Last week, senior quarterback Andrew Romanchak threw 48 times — and Freeport ran an eye-popping 85 plays. Romanchak completed 22 of them, with a touchdown and an interception.

“Our secondary will be tested for sure,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “I know defensively they will have a good game plan together to try and stop us. I think they can give us matchup issues for sure, and we will have to be focused in order to win.”

The Allegheny Conference has delivered a number of thrilling finishes and high-scoring games, and this one has the potential for more — unless defense trumps offense.

Class AA No. 6 Apollo-Ridge has surrendered double-digit point totals in five of its six games, including 21 points to West Shamokin, 41 to Kittanning (in overtime), 20 to Shady Side Academy and 28 against unbeaten and No. 5 Highlands — its only loss.

Freeport, which averages 23.5 points, also has been in shootouts. It edged West Shamokin, 28-26; it lost to Kittanning, 63-34; and it fell to Highlands, 42-19.

“Andrew will have to throw,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “We always look at 25 to 30 passing attempts per game. It all depends what Apollo's defense is giving us. I know that our boys will play as hard as they can from the first snap to the last.”

Romanchak, who threw 37 times against Kittanning, is ready to drop back and fire away.

“Believe it or not, my arm wasn't sore at all Saturday (after the Highlands game),” he said. “I've always hoped I'd get the chance to throw a lot and this year I finally do.”

Freeport is tied for fifth place in the conference with Valley. The top four teams make the WPIAL playoffs.

“We have to steal one from one of the Big 3 teams,” Gaillot said, referring to Kittanning, Highlands and Apollo-Ridge.

A leg up

Freeport knows it likely will need more touchdowns than field goals against Apollo-Ridge — this isn't Steelers-Ravens — but it will take the latter since the three-pointers have been virtually automatic. Freshman Jacob Sarver hit all four of his field-goal attempts last week to finish one shy of the state record. For the season, he's made a WPIAL-best eight field goals, missing just one. Sarver is 12 for 14 on extra points.

“He played soccer when he was young,” Gaillot said. “He played football in eighth grade, and he would take over the game with his ability.”

Action Jackson

Highlands senior running back Elijah Jackson, believed to be the program's all-time leading rusher, needs 117 yards to reach 3,000 for his career. He has rushed for 120 or more yards five times this season, including 204 in Week 4.

He has 922 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Kittanning, Valley hurting?

Kittanning could be without two star players Friday night against Valley, which is dealing with a rash of injuries of its own.

Kittanning senior receiver/linebacker and Pitt recruit Nick Bowers and sophomore running back Zane Dudek are day-to-day with injuries. Bowers, who missed Saturday's game at Burrell, is nursing a sore left knee. Dudek, meantime, pulled up lame with a groin injury in Saturday's game.

Valley has five injured two-way starters: Eugene Bailey (WR/DB), Vinny DiCarolis (OL/DL), John Richey (OL/DL), Logan Ludwiczak (OL/DL) and James Bradley (RB/LB). Running back/linebacker Jorden King, the team's leading rusher, also is questionable.

“It's brutal right now, but what can you do?” Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo said. “We're down to our third-string long snapper.”

Off-the-wall offense

Clairton has played with the fluidity and short-field effectiveness of an arena-league team this season, averaging 71.7 points per game. Maybe that's because the Bears' offensive coordinator coaches arena football.

Springdale native Shawn Liotta has drawn up plays this season. He is the coach of the Erie Explosion, which has won back-to-back CIFL championships. Liotta used to be the coach at West Shamokin and was an assistant at Duquesne University.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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