New Brighton staves off Apollo-Ridge rally for playoff victory

Friday, November 1, 2019 | 11:29 PM

New Brighton won its first WPIAL playoff game in 18 seasons Friday night at Apollo’s Owens Field.

But the Lions had to hold off a late Apollo-Ridge rally punctuated by a close call at the end.

New Brighton scored an insurance touchdown with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the game to come away with a 35-21 victory in a Class 2A opening-round game.

With the Lions in control 28-7 the Vikings drove for a touchdown with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter. Apollo-Ridge forced a punt and scored again with 1:30 left on a 28-yard pass from Jake Fello to Klay Fitzroy. That cut the New Brighton lead to 28-21.

The Vikings tried an onside kick that was tapped by Fitzroy to himself, and he was stopped at the New Brighton 43.

One official put his bean bag at the 50, indicating that the kick went 10 yards. But the officials conferred and it was decided that Fitzroy touched the ball prior to the 50, and New Brighton was awarded possession at the Vikings 49.

“That blown call’s going to haunt me,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “I was upset because he said there wasn’t flag for illegal touching. I thought (Fitzroy) ran by. We have it on video. We felt pretty good about it, but it is what it is.”

The Lions (8-3) advance to the quarterfinals next Friday against Avonworth at 7:00 p.m., at a site to be determined.

Apollo-Ridge concluded its season at 7-4.

New Brighton’s offense collected 423 yards of offense behind a stellar performance by linemen from Hunter George, Alex Mittner, Matt Jackson, Dylan Hupp and Trent Porter. The latter three weigh 300 pounds or more.

“They’re heavy and they’re strong, and they do a nice job,” Skiba said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes. That’s where we’ve got to get better. We have to be better up front on both sides of the ball.”

On the second play from scrimmage, Fello found Fitzroy, who wrenched the ball away from a defender at the 47 and went the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown.

But the Lions answered quickly with Jackson Hall finding Jake Francona for a 43-yard gain to the Vikings 11. The Lions scored three plays later to tie the score.

“That sure helped,” New Brighton coach Joe Greco said of the quick response. “They have some great players. We responded, and we were ready to play football tonight.”

In what turned out to be a key play later in the first quarter, Apollo-Ridge was driving for another score at the New Brighton 10. But on fourth down, Kyler Rombold batted the ball the ball away from Fitzroy in the end zone to keep the score 7-7.

New Brighton went ahead on the second play of the second quarter on a 14-yard pass from Hall to Kei’Ondre Abercrombie.

The Lions had the ball to start the second half because they deferred the opening kickoff. The strategy paid off as New Brighton scored the first two times it had the ball in the second half to open a 28-7 advantage.

“That helped. We needed to get some space in the second half,” Greco said. “They have a good passing attack, and they’re dangerous. Our offense executed very, very well for the most part tonight.”

Hall finished with 232 yards passing, Fello 281 yards.

Nya Greene had 134 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including the 45-yarder with 1:05 to go.

Fitzroy had 160 receiving yards and Logan Harmon, keyed on all night by the Lions defense, had 76 hard-earned yards.

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