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Apollo-Ridge wants another shot at postseason

| Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003

APOLLO: After spending the 1999 season rebuilding, Apollo-Ridge head coach Jerry Moore has built the Vikings football program into one of the most consistent in the Allegheny Conference.

In the past three years, Apollo-Ridge has posted an impressive 23-4 record and qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs each year.

And lost all three times.

After finishing the regular season 9-0 in 2000, Apollo-Ridge fell 34-26 to upstart Steel Valley. In 2001, Aliquippa came to Owens Field and drilled the Allegheny Conference co-champions, 42-0. Last season, as the WPIAL's lone wild card, the Vikings were defeated, 53-0, by top-seeded Jeannette.

Undaunted, Apollo-Ridge is still looking for another shot in the postseason. But in the Allegheny Conference, anything can happen.

"In our conference, it's real tough," Moore said. "Our conference is loaded every year."

Two of the biggest voids Apollo-Ridge needs to fill are right in the middle of the field. Gone are quarterback Luke Hill, the surprise starter who didn't even play the position until the first week of last season, and center Jeff Kirk, who anchored the team's mobile offensive line and helped its Delaware Wing-T work with synchronous precision.

"We definitely lost our most dominant linemen," Moore said. "We have a few people we're trying out in different positions, and we'll see what we're doing."

Finding a replacement for Hill will be easy. Junior Jeff Zelonka was set to head under center last season until he broke his right elbow while throwing a ball in a passing drill.

"He shows a lot all the time that he's a good leader and has confidence in himself," Moore said. "He has the ability and, even though he's not huge, he has the physical tools."

In the wing-T, Zelonka's small stature could be an asset while working on deception and quick handoffs. Challenging him for the position will be Brett Johnson, a senior who has yet to take a snap in a varsity game.

In a running attack such as this, however, it's the player directly behind the quarterback who makes all the difference. For Apollo-Ridge, having a two-year starter in senior fullback Jarrod Miller could go a long way toward helping the Vikings make a return trip to the postseason.

"In our offense he's more of a tailback than a typical fullback, but he has two years of experience," Moore said. "He's a go-to guy and you can count on him to do the job."

Last season, Miller carried 161 times for 592 yards, for 3.6 yards per carry. He gets the tough yards when the Vikings need them.

Fellow senior Frank Colwell rushed for 486 yards and five touchdowns.

Apollo-Ridge probably will use Jon Emehizer as one of the wingbacks, but will have a difficult time filling in for Adam Ross, who did everything for the Vikings last season. In addition to catching 23 passes for 305 yards, he also took care of all placements -- making 16 of 18 extra points -- and punted.

"We're probably going to use defensive tackle David Daly to do the kicking," Moore said. "He's got good hands and could be a tight end at the next level, but we can't afford that."

Daly will be one of the players the Vikings will rely upon to plug several gaps in an Apollo-Ridge defense that surrendered only 1,854 yards and 133 points in the 2002 regular season.

As will be the case on offense, Miller will be the focal point of Apollo-Ridge's defensive effort.

"He was the anchor last year and he'll be our defensive leader," Moore said. "We'll have other kids who need experience, but time will tell."

Another player the Vikings will miss is Kirk, who was more dominant on this side of the ball than he was snapping it back. In the season finale against Ford City, he made 17 tackles and essentially carried the team into the postseason.

"That makes it tough," Moore said. "He was a great player who could plug the middle and we need to be more sound without him."

Apollo-Ridge will use senior Josh Hessom to replace Kirk, both offensively and defensively. He'll get help on defense from senior John McLay which could make for a tough defensive tandem.

If it's enough to put Apollo-Ridge back into the postseason and get Moore his first playoff win in four tries is anyone's guess.

"You have to find a way to replace the kids you lose," Moore said. "But if the kids come through here and come through there, we'll be alright."

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