Ford City is peaking at right time in season
For Ford City, fears of a sub-.500 record and a spot outside the Allegheny Conference's top four are gone thanks to back-to-back confidence-boosting wins.
"The beginning of the season is pretty much a blur," senior lineman Zane Hassa said. "It seems so long ago, now."
The Sabers (4-3, 3-2) hope to continue their upswing Friday at Apollo-Ridge (1-6, 1-4), which is in the midst of a three-game slide. Ford City's offense, a weakness at the start of the season, has begun to complement a defense that kept the Sabers in each of their first seven games.
"I think if we have everybody healthy, we're going to be a lot better than we were in those beginning games," said Ford City coach John Bartolovic, whose Sabers were 2-3 three weeks ago.
Senior Greg Heeter and junior Seth Frazier, both linemen, remain day-to-day with a concussion and a knee injury, respectively. Junior quarterback David Lattanzio continues to recover from mononucleosis, and his illness has forced senior tight end Hunter Bower to spend much of his practice time as well as his Friday nights under center.
Even with the absences, the Sabers scored season-high point totals the past two weeks, defeating Summit Academy, 21-20, and then handling West Shamokin, 37-0.
Running backs Ian Boylstein and Devan Willyard have flourished behind a much-improved offensive line. Each gained 130-plus yards in the Summit Academy win, and both averaged more than five yards a carry last week.
"We're moving the ball well," Hassa said. "All of our linemen have finally decided to start playing the way we know how. We're finally learning everything right, committing less mistakes. ... We still want to be better. The beginning of the season, it was just inexperience. But now, that it's later in the year, we're getting more and more used to it."
Bower has helped Ford City remain two-dimensional in Lattanzio's absence. He threw for 65 yards and a score against Summit Academy, and he tossed two touchdowns against West Shamokin.
While Ford City's offense has hit its stride, Apollo-Ridge's has regressed a bit. The Vikings scored at least 13 points in each of its first three games. Then came a 34-0 win over Deer Lakes that brought Apollo-Ridge's confidence to an apex.
The Vikings scored 32 points in a 16-point loss to conference co-leader Burrell during Week 5, but they followed that performance with 14 points against Freeport and 6 against Shady Side Academy. Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba considered the lack of production discouraging.
"Nothing really has changed," Skiba said. "Yes, the competition has gotten better, but I don't know how much better. ... I don't think there's a really dominant team in the conference."
In last week's loss, the Vikings finished with a season-low 150 yards in total offense -- they had 8 yards passing and 142 rushing. Anthony Bozzarelli's 80-yard touchdown run provided Apollo-Ridge its only highlight.
"We've really got to sure up our front five," Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. "We've been in a disarray for a while. ... Skill-wise, I think we balance out (with Ford City), but we've got to get better up front."