Apollo-Ridge’s offense has been quite the spectacle this season, producing a touchdown display the A-K Valley hasn’t seen in some time.
Talk about Showtime at the Apollo.
The rev-it-and-go Vikings (9-1) have produced 469 points, seven shy of the area’s all-time record for a season. Knoch scored 476 in 2011, but that took 13 games. The Vikings are averaging 46.9 points per game and have scored 67 touchdowns, 50 via rush.
The message is as clear to opponents in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs as it was during the regular season: You must outscore the Vikings to beat them. Not exactly rocket science, but outscoring this team — more like outrunning it — could mean putting up a slew of points. Beaver Falls scored 40 last week in the first round and lost.
Apollo-Ridge’s defense, which has been somewhat overshadowed, has shown it can pressure the quarterback, break up passes and even stop the run. But the Vikings seem content in trading touchdowns with teams.
“I know the players we have and what they can do,” senior quarterback/receiver/defensive back Tre Tipton said. “Coach (John) Skiba finds ways to use all of his players. Our linemen run downfield with us and keep their blocks.”
Third-seeded Washington (10-0), ranked No. 8 in the state, is next up for No. 6 Apollo-Ridge, which sits one win away from its first trip to the semifinals.
While the Vikings were 5-0 at home this season, including their first home playoff win last week in front of a raucous crowd, they will hit the road to play the talented Little Prexies on Friday at Latrobe.
Last week’s back-and-forth 58-40 win was played in the mud at Owens Field. Imagine the possibilities of two speed teams playing on Latrobe’s turf field.
“I don’t think anyone realizes how big of a win that game Friday night was for us,” Skiba said. “We beat a nasty, massive, skilled Midwestern Conference power in Beaver Falls. This week, offensively, we’ll do what we always do: try and find ways of getting our guys in space and let them work.”
The Prexies, champions of the Interstate Conference, use a balanced offense. Quarterback Jonathan Spina has thrown for 1,122 yards with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Malik Wells is the top rusher with 1,192 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Dequay Isbell has 18 catches for 571 yards and 11 scores.
Skiba said Washington has large and aggressive lines. “Probably the best we’ve seen all year,” he said.
Apollo-Ridge could end up with three 1,000-yard rushers. Duane Brown leads the way with 1,172 yards, Tipton has 984, and Jonah Casella has 878. The three have combined for 41 rushing touchdowns. Brown has scored 28 touchdowns overall. He has passed for 758 yards and 13 TDs. Tipton has thrown for 501 yards.
Being a former lineman at Laurel and Pitt, Skiba often appreciates the up-front play over the skill players. Part of that is because he’s used to seeing the latter.
“I love watching our undersized guys battle their butts off and do things they aren’t supposed to do,” Skiba said. “It’s really a reflection of what we are all about at Apollo-Ridge. We aren’t blessed with all the amenities that other programs have. We don’t have massive bodies up front, and we struggle with depth. But we have a blue-collar group that gets the job done.”
The fourth-year coach is more for the “it’s our turn” school of thought in these playoffs.
“We’ll have to battle all night to stay in it, but I like my guys’ chances because we have kids that believe in each other. … we have a community that wants us to get it done,” Skiba said. “So we feel pretty good about our chances moving forward.”
While Washington’s scoring average (41.8) can bump elbows with the other top ones in Class AA, its defense allows just 13.5 points a game.
The line play concerns Skiba most.
“They’re huge. We’re dealing with a lot of meat,” he said. “They’re actually more slow and methodical (offensively). I’m sure they’ll huddle up a lot. They have stick-and-stay linemen.”