Apollo-Ridge to lean on talented sophomores
When asked what is getting the Apollo-Ridge football team amped up for the 2018 season, sophomores Klay Fitzroy and Logan Harmon pointed to the new classification and, with it, new matchups.
The Vikings dropped from Class 3A to 2A in the offseason.
They again will take on familiar conference foes Shady Side Academy and Valley, who also dropped to 2A. But the new Allegheny Conference also features Avonworth, East Allegheny, Steel Valley and Summit Academy.
“We’re going to have tough games every week, but we’re ready for the challenge,” said Harmon, who led the team in rushing with 618 yards and 10 touchdowns on 90 carries through nine games as a freshman.
Harmon, who checks in at about 190 pounds, also led the team in tackles with 68 and recovered a fumble. He is part of a sophomore class that numbers into the teens.
Included in that mix is Fitzroy, a two-way starter at wide receiver and defensive back, as well as starting quarterback/defensive back Jake Fello and wide receiver/defensive back Keighton Reese.
“We came here (in the offseason) and everybody worked together as a family every day,” Harmon said. “The coaches pushed us and got us to where we need to be for the season. Now, we just have to make that hard work pay off.”
The Vikings are hoping to return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. They finished last season 4-6 overall and 2-5 (sixth place) in the Class 3A Allegheny Conference.
With 31 teams and four conferences in 2A, the top four teams in each conference will make the WPIAL playoffs. The 2A title game is set for Robert Morris the weekend of Nov. 24.
Steel Valley finished runner-up to Washington in Class 2A last year, and East Allegheny and Avonworth were quarterfinalists.
“We think this could be one of the most skilled conferences in 2A,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “The top end of that is loaded with a lot of talented skill players. There are a lot of good teams in this conference. We certainly know what we’re going to be up against.”
Skiba said he’s excited to see the youth on the team take that next step this fall.
“We’re fortunate because those young kids did play so much football last year,” Skiba said. “They have matured, not only body- and frame-wise, but also in their approach to the game and their confidence. They, along with the seniors and other older players, really put a lot of time into what they do.”
Fello saw action in nine games last year, including five at quarterback. He completed 24 of 52 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
Fello also rushed for 88 yards and caught eight passes for 91 yards. Defensively, he made 25 stops, intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles.
Fitzroy competed with Fello for the starting quarterback nod in the offseason and had experience there last season. He will be one of Fello’s top receiving targets, along with Reese and seniors Alex Gamble and Brad Milko.
“We’re a lot more ready this year,” Fitzroy said. “We grew up with all that we faced last year.”
Reese, Gamble and Milko each had a team-best two receiving touchdowns last year.
Reese also finished second on the team in tackles last year with 54. Gamble, also a defensive back, added 39 stops.
Senior Jacob Clark, who recorded 35 tackles from his defensive line position a year ago, is a two-way lineman Skiba said will be key to the team’s success this season.
Skiba also noted the return of senior Kent Harkleroad, junior Robby Harkleroad and senior Zack Kostelansky as experienced players in the trenches.
“They are pretty athletic kids who can get out and move a little bit, too,” Skiba said. “They’ve worked their tails off. If they put their nose on people and battle, we’ll be all right.”
Skiba said his players understand many will be playing on both sides of the ball this season and that good conditioning will be crucial.
He said the team worked this summer on rotating a lot of the skill players on offense to make sure they got breaks so they are fresher on defense.
Apollo-Ridge again will play a Week Zero game. The Vikings will host Leechburg at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Playing that game is a great way to get things moving and work out some of the kinks, especially with things like special teams,” Skiba said. “On top of that, we’re playing a neighbor and someone who used to be a major rival. The fans are always really excited about it, and it should generate a great crowd just as last year’s game did.
“Leechburg is an improved team with a lot of good skill kids. We saw them a little bit over the summer, so we know we will be in for a challenge.”
Coach: John Skiba
2017 record: 4-6, 2-5
All-time record: 209-263-9
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, Leechburg, 7 p.m.
9.1, at Summit Academy*, 12:30 p.m.
9.7, at Carlynton, 7 p.m.
9.14, East Allegheny*, 7 p.m.
9.21, Avonworth*, 7 p.m.
9.29, at Shady Side Academy*, 2:30 p.m.
10.5, Valley*, 7 p.m.
10.12, Steel Valley*, 7 p.m.
10.19, at Freedom, 7:30 p.m.
10.26, at Charleroi, 7 p.m.
*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game
Passing: Kyle Fitzroy*
46-82, 639 yards, 6 TDs
Rushing: Logan Harmon
90-618 yards, 10 TDs
Receiving: Klay Fitzroy
18-224 yards, 1 TD