Leechburg defeats rival Apollo-Ridge for 1st time since 2003, ends 10-game skid
Leechburg’s Bret Kardos couldn’t contain his smile.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said through his grin.
The postgame sentiments from the senior linebacker/fullback were tongue-in-cheek, because he and everyone else on the Leechburg sideline believed they could play with rival Apollo-Ridge, even if they were considered underdogs.
The Blue Devils showed that belief from the first snap to the final one and celebrated the beginning of their 100th season in grand style.
Leechburg controlled field position for the majority of the game, and Jake Blumer rushed for two second-half touchdowns in a 28-13 upset victory over Apollo-Ridge Friday night in a Week Zero game at Owens Field.
“We knew we could do it with all the hard work we put in during the offseason,” Kardos said. “In our first scrimmage we were hitting kids hard, and we knew we could come here and wipe Apollo-Ridge into the woods.”
The Blue Devils went winless last year and snapped a 10-game losing streak. Their last win against Apollo-Ridge was in 2003.
“I’m very proud of these boys, because they played tough and they played with heart,” Leechburg coach Mark George said. “After last season, with them being so young, they had to learn to play with heart. Next week, we have to play the defending state champs (Jeannette), but we’re going to enjoy tonight.”
Leechburg took a 14-13 lead into halftime and controlled field position for the majority of the second half thanks to the punting of Tanner Dudek.
The Blue Devils (1-0) started at midfield or in Apollo-Ridge territory four times in the second half, while Apollo-Ridge (0-1) started inside its own 30 four times.
Eventually, Leechburg turned the tilted field into points when Blumer broke free for a 15-yard score that made it 21-13 late in the third quarter. On the next possession, Blumer struck again with a 37-yard run, putting Leechburg up two scores.
Blumer ran hard all night, busting through tackles, finishing with a tough 72 yards on 18 carries, and was in on a couple sacks on defense with fellow linebackers Nico Venanzio and Kardos. He was proud of his team stuck together throughout.
“What was going through my head was that I couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Blumer said. “We were going strong from the beginning, and we were going to finish it off all the way through.”
Blumer also had a 50-yard score on a fumble return in the first half that gave Leechburg a 14-7 lead. Apollo-Ridge quarterback Jake Fello lost the ball trying to scramble, and it one-hopped right to Blumer, who caught it in stride and ran all the way to the end zone untouched.
“I couldn’t believe it came to me. I was going to fall on it, but I just picked up and ran with it,” Blumer said. “My coach said if I would’ve just fell on it, I would have been in big trouble.”
Apollo-Ridge dealt with cramping issues with sophomore standouts Logan Harmon, Keighton Reese and Klay Fitzroy and junior Cade Grguric all missing action for long stretches. Reese and Harmon missed the majority of the second half.
“It’s a reality check for them, because we told them they have to take care of their bodies leading up to games,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “They put in one ear and out the other, because they think they’re invincible. Well, our invincibility tonight was five or six guys cramping up in the second half.
“We better figure that out pretty quick. We preach it, but I guess it’s on us to force feed it to them.”
Apollo-Ridge marched 80 yards in 14 plays on the opening possession, scoring on a 3-yard pass from Fello to Fitzroy. Fello finished with 187 yards passing and two touchdowns, both to Fitzroy.
Dylan Cook connected with Chace Wadsworth on a 23-yard pass for a touchdown early in the second quarter, which tied the game at 7.