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If you’re interested in buying photos from the POPCHOCK ON PREPS High School Football Game of the Week between Kittanning and Apollo-Ridge for editorial or personal use, visit Champs Photography online, or contact Jason Heffran at 878-302-7000. For custom player photos, “sportrait” concepts, team photos, or game action photos you can’t get anywhere else, ChampsPhoto.com is your one-stop shop.
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I’m Matt Popchock, and I’m just getting started.
Apollo-Ridge senior athlete Tre Tipton says: Despite his own amazing performance, it took an amazing team effort for the Vikings to establish themselves as the new team-to-beat in the Allegheny Conference with their overtime win over Kittanning in Week 3:
POPCHOCK SAYS: After I turned my camera off, I waited for a moment or two in the Apollo-Ridge locker room to speak with Coach Skiba. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was Tipton, ever so humble.
“Excuse me,” he asked, having never stopped smiling, “that didn’t sound too cocky, did it?”
After what happened on the field that night, I wasn’t about to say yes.
I’ve seen Nick Bowers on one of the best days of his varsity career. Friday was not it. But I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, Pitt will be fortunate to have him. Knowing how Paul Chryst likes to use his tight ends, including ex-WPIAL stars J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff, Bowers will fit like a receiver’s glove, as long as he doesn’t mind starting lower on the totem pole. He can do a little bit of everything on offense, and he is a royal pain to tackle.
And now that I’ve seen Tipton on what might have been the best day of his varsity career, I can tell you Pitt found another diamond in the rough. On some level, he reminded me of Tyler Boyd–not with his hands, but with his combination of speed, agility, vision, and yes, humility. There is only one Tyler Boyd–and Pittsburgh had better enjoy him while it can, because that young man is going places–but it’s certainly nice for Pitt to have another extraordinary small-school athlete on the way.
This game was billed as a “cat fight” between two future Panthers, and Tipton won this particular battle convincingly with his legs. They really neutralized each other in pass coverage; Bowers was limited to four catches for 57 yards, and his lone touchdown came when he drew a different matchup. But there is definitely a mutual respect between the two, and between the two teams on the whole.
“I think they limited what [Bowers] did, because they thought they had other options,” Skiba said after the game, “which is smart, because they do have other options. They’re a very talented team. I think tonight we attacked them. Other teams have sat back and played some zone, which gave them some opportunities, but we didn’t. We hung in there, and I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids.”
The adage that, if you say you have two number one quarterbacks, you really don’t have any doesn’t seem to apply to Apollo-Ridge. We know what Tipton did in the wildcat, and next year the team will be in very capable hands with Duane Brown, whose four touchdown runs included the game-winner on the Vikings’ first offensive play of overtime.
Apollo-Ridge still has some things to clean up before it meets Shady Side Academy Friday. They didn’t tackle all that well at times, and their lack of discipline, punctuated by a late turnover and penalties, almost cost them a game they were in control of with not much time left in regulation.
Granted, some of that also had to do with the poise of quarterback Braydon Toy, and the powerful running of Zane Dudek, who had a fantastic second half to spark Kittanning’s comeback. Result aside, I was probably watching the two best teams in the Allegheny Conference in Week 3, along with the conference’s two–or three–best players. Skiba, who gained valuable experience by assisting Clair Altemus at Pine-Richland when Neil Walker played there, definitely has something going with this A-R squad.
POPCHOCK SAYS: It’s time to announce the POPCHOCK ON PREPS High School Football Game of the Week for Week 4:
Mount Lebanon Blue Devils (2-0 in Class AAAA Southeastern Conference, 3-0 overall)
at Penn Hills Indians (2-0 in Class AAAA Southeastern Conference, 2-1 overall)
7:30 p.m. EDT – Yuhas-McGinley Stadium
Why you should care: Mount Lebanon is trying to prove its hot start was no fluke, and Penn Hills is trying to prove last week’s loss at Central Valley was. Leading the Indians is junior dual-threat quarterback Billy Kisner, who has attracted attention from Pitt (which he visited over the summer) and Penn State, and should rack up some D-I offers going forward.
However, I should qualify the previous statement. “Dual-threat quarterback” can be defined liberally; as a former co-worker who also assists a WPIAL football team once quipped to me, “Does that mean he can’t [bleeping] throw?”
Well, Kisner can throw. But, admittedly, he’s had a little more luck with his legs so far. He gave Upper St. Clair’s defense fits in a huge Week 1 win, and he’ll need to be on his toes against Mount Lebanon’s defense, which, through three games, is the third-least scored-upon unit in Quad-A.
In fact, an even bigger story for Penn Hills has been senior tailback Te’Shan Campbell. He was one of the team’s bright spots in that Week 3 setback, and with his six rushing touchdowns entering Week 4, he’s already doubled last year’s total.
One of the stars defensively for the Blue Devils has been junior outside linebacker Ben Bruni, who is averaging eight total tackles per game. He’s gotten an early look from Robert Morris, not to mention several from schools in the MAC and Ivy League.
When Chris Haering was still coaching there, Lebo was run, run, run. Since Haering left for Pitt, new coach Mike Melnyk has tried to open things up a bit. Still, this game should be an interesting, hard-hitting clash of conventional styles.
I’ll have more on it from Penn Hills High School Friday night.
Once again, you’re interested in buying photos from the previous POPCHOCK ON PREPS High School Football Game of the Week for editorial or personal use, visit Champs Photography online, or contact Jason Heffran at 878-302-7000.
I’m Matt Popchock, and that’s all she wrote.
(h/t Ray Bartha, Apollo-Ridge School District; Chris Peak, Panther-Lair.com; Bill Beckner, Valley News-Dispatch; Jason Heffran, Champs Photography)
(Featured image of, left to right, Kittanning senior Nick Bowers, Apollo-Ridge senior Tre Tipton, and Apollo-Ridge senior Jonah Casella; and inserted image of Tipton courtesy of Jason Heffran/Champs Photography)